[ back ]
Vietnam Memorial visit marked by tragedy
In what can only be described as a bittersweet turn of events, the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall visited Pickerington earlier this month, bringing with it a plethora of visitors, days of unseasonably glorious sunshine, and a car accident that left the community reeling.
Jim Massengale, commander of the American Legion Post 283 at 7725 Refugee Road, said all were dumbfounded after 84-year-old post member Carl Irish was killed Nov. 8 as he was crossing Refugee Road to go to a planning meeting about the wall.
Post member John Edwards Jr., 83, was also seriously injured in the accident. Kermit Edwards, 88, who is also a veteran but not a post member, was allegedly driving the van that hit both men. Irish was pronounced dead at the hospital, and the results were relayed to the shocked post members as they continued their planning meeting.
“It was highly unfortunate that happened,” Massengale said. “It’s just sickening.”
Irish was a World War II and Korean War veteran, and a retired supervisor from Bell Laboratories and AT&T. His lifelong passion was photography, and he served as the American Legion Post 283 photographer and also had his own Web site where he featured his photos of festivals, flowers and nature.
“Every time we had anything of any importance he would be there with his camera clicking away,” Massengale recalled. “He was just that way – he loved to do that.”
Irish was looking forward to chronicling the wall’s visit via photography, a task that his son, Pickerington resident Dean Irish, decided to continue on behalf of his father.
Because the wall’s visit was so important to Irish and the community, Massengale said his wife, Helen Irish, chose to delay his funeral and memorial service until after the wall’s visit. Following the memorial service, the post remembered him with full military honors, as well as a celebration of his life held inside of the legion hall.
As a tribute to Irish, many of his photographs continue to be displayed in the legion hall, Massengale noted. Like most photographers, however, there are not many photos of him included in the showcase, as he was always behind the lens.
The other post member who was critically injured in the accident experienced bleeding in the brain, but had no broken bones. He is expected to go to a rehabilitation facility shortly, with the expectation he will return home soon.
“He is recovering nicely,” Massengale said.
With the exception of the tragic accident, most of the wall’s visit went off without a hitch, Massengale said.
They are not sure of the exact numbers, but Massengale said the man who accompanied the wall to the community estimated more than 35,000 came through to see the wall, which was created by a veterans’ group in Brevard County, Fla., and is three-fifths the size of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“He said it was one of the best turnouts he has seen in a while.”
Most of the visitors were local, but they identified at least three people from out of state – including one from Hawaii.
At times there was a wait as long as two hours or more, but Massengale said everybody waited patiently and respectfully.
“It was amazing,” he said. “Everything ran so smoothly. The community, the police, the fire department – they all did their part. It ran just as smooth as you would ever want it to run.”
He noted that the close cooperation with the school district was a benefit to all.
“They school giving us the parking lot really helped,” he said. “We had a lot of school kids come through, particularly a lot of high school kids coming over from Pickerington North.”
Plans for the site
The legion post will soon have a meeting to talk about what could have been done differently, and if they would ever like the wall to return. The post built a V-shaped sidewalk behind the lodge hall specifically for the wall’s use, and it would be possible to bring back the memorial, which stands six feet tall at the center and covers almost 300 feet from end to end, Massengale noted.
“Maybe in three or four years we would want to have it back again,” he said.
In the meantime, the post will decide what to do with the remaining land behind the shelter house where the sidewalk is located.
“Before the wall came, we talked about making that area a park with benches, trees – a small area where someone could come to think and reflect,” he said.
They might also decide to put a tribute to Irish there, the post member who served in two wars and gave his life trying to make sure the sacrifices of others were not forgotten.
Those who would like to make a memorial contribution on behalf of Carl Irish can send it to: Wounded Warriors Project, PO Box 758516, Topeka, KS 66675-8516.
[ back ]