Thanking The Fallen

Local veteran returns to DC after serious injury to remember those who didn’t come home

Photo submitted to the Times Observer Warren’s Al Harrison reads the names of some of the 58,318 people listed on the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. as part of the Veterans Memorial Fund’s Reading of the Names on November 7. Harrison returned to the nation’s capital months after a minor motorcycle accident around in D.C. back in May resulted in a brain bleed and an extensive recovery.

Al Harrison had every reason to be excused from a commitment he made in April.

But he had a better one to keep it.

This Memorial Day, Harrison, a Vietnam veteran, went to Washington D.C. to participate in the Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom in support of prisoners of war and those who are missing in action.

During that event, Harrison was involved in a very minor accident. He was checked and seemed fine. A few hours later it was discovered that he had developed bleeding on his brain. He was rushed to a local hospital for treatment and put on life-support in the intensive care unit.

After a long recovery, Harrison returned to health and Warren County.

The decision to return to the capital was an easy one.

Just before Veterans Day, Harrison made the trip to Washington to thank the tens of thousands of Americans who gave their lives in Vietnam.

He was one of hundreds of volunteers who read the names that are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

“It was something I’ve always wanted to do,” Harrison said. “One day, I got up and said to myself, ‘find out that information.'”

He applied in April.

He had to explain why he wanted to read and what, if any, particular names, he wanted to read.

“The first one I gave was John Gary Gertsch, the local Medal of Honor recipient,” Harrison said.

Harrison is a member of the John Gertsch Memorial Post #77.

That was enough explanation.

Each volunteer is asked to read 30 names.

Harrison was eventually asked to read eight times over the two days he was available.

Out of those 240 names, Harrison only recognized one — John Gary Gertsch.

“The other ones, they were people that I did not know,” he said. “It didn’t matter. Their names were on the Wall.”

The expectation is that readers will take two minutes to get through each group. Readers are expected to be early to keep the reading on schedule. “There was a one-hour check-in before,” Harrison said.

Each reader is handed a paper with their names on it. When it is their turn, they step up to the podium, read the names, and step away, immediately replaced by the next.

Reading the names is not easy. Most who read share something with one or more of the names.

“Behind me, one lady had a husband that was killed in Vietnam,” Harrison said.

“When I started reading names, it was natural… I didn’t have any problems,” he said. “Even the other nationalities, I had no problem pronouncing them.”

It is important that the reading stay on schedule. People who want to be at the Wall to hear a particular name can find a schedule. The schedule is not perfect, but it was within eight hundredths of one percent when Harrison was there.

“It takes 96 hours to read the 58,318 names on the Wall,” Harrison said. “They started reading on Tuesday. They were four minutes off on Friday.”

The Wall itself is nearly 500 feet long and more than 10 feet high at its highest point. Harrison spent some time there, finding names he knew, remembering.

There are 140 panels on the wall. Harrison found Warren County veteran Danny Nuhfer on the same panel as Gertsch.

“It was a very good experience,” Harrison said. “I may apply next year.”

If he does read again, he would like to directly honor the county’s war dead.

“We had 17 from Warren County that was killed,” Harrison said. “I’ll find out the times.”

He said he would like to either read or be present for each of them.