By Rick Vasquez, Stars and Stripes
Stars and Stripes online edition, Thursday, December 20, 2007
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Organizers for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund couldn’t ask for a more perfect winter morning for their annual Christmas Tree at the Wall ceremony.
The sun was shining bright, the skies were blue and the cold breeze was bearable on Thursday for the VVMF’s annual ceremony on the East Knoll of the National Mall.
A small crowd attended the ceremony to witness the decoration of the tree with greeting cards sent to VVMF from Americans of all ages. The tree was also decorated with handmade cards and ornaments made by school children and teenagers from as far as El Cajon Valley High School in El Cajon, Ca., and as close as White Oaks Elementary in Burke, Va. The ornaments and cards are dedicated to Veterans and active-duty military personnel. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of The Wall.
“It is definitely a nice day but it wouldn’t have made a difference whether it rained or snowed because this event is held regardless of the weather,” said Lisa Gough, VVMF Director of Communications. “And this year we received more than 6,000 messages.”
Brief remarks were made by Navy Capt. Eugene Smallwood Jr. who shared a touching story about his father, Lt. Col. Eugene Fenton Smallwood, who was killed in the Vietnam War and is remembered on memorial’s wall. Smallwood remembers getting up early to catch his father in the act of putting him and his siblings’ toys together on Christmas morning.
“He always had a great explanation,” he said, “that Santa Claus was in such a hurry because of all the houses that he had to get to that he had come up, woke my dad up and had asked him to help put the toys together. And when we would glance over at the table, we would see that half of the glass of milk and most of the cookies were gone, we knew that Santa had been there and we had no reason not to believe my dad.”
Smallwood’s father was career Army Officer who served in WWII and the Korean War. Smallwood last he saw his father from the window of the Greyhound bus as it drove away, taking him to a summer scout camp in New Mexico.
“He was very proud of me because I had just achieved a rather distinguished honor as being one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in Northern Virginia,” he said. “I waved to my father on the way out. What I did not realize at the time was that it was the last time I would ever see him.”
With the ambition of moving up in rank, Smallwood’s father, 42, volunteered to accept an assignment with the military advisory team in Vietnam. He was killed two months after arriving in Vietnam.
“I can still vividly remember those two Army officers standing in our front door,” Smallwood said. “I can also remember my mom huddling up all the children, taking us down to the basement and telling us, ‘your daddy is not coming home.’ ”
VVMF founder and president Jan Scruggs reminded the crowd to take time this holiday season to remember friends whose name are on the memorial’s walls and those serving currently in the middle east.
“They are in great deal of danger,” he said, “and they are serving to keep us free and we just appreciate their efforts on our behalf.”