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Eva Sayer, of Knox, formerly of McConnelsville, Ohio had a Memorial Day she will never forget for as long as she lives.
"This 23 day of May, 2012 will forever be one of the top events of my life," she said.
Memorial Day is a special day for all citizens. But this year was especially special for Sayer because it's been 44 years since her older brother was killed in the Vietnam War and his death was finally recognized and his sacrifice honored by an entire town at a very special Memorial Day parade in McConnelsville when the Vietnam wall was brought through town during Memorial Day week.
Sayer's brother, Samuel D. McInturf was the first in her county to be killed during the Vietnam war. And through the years, Sayer and her family only found out of one other death from the war in their small town.
Sayer said her brother was just a regular guy to anyone who noticed him â€” but to her, he was her best friend.
"He attended school and did chores, along with training most of our horses. He and I were buddies; he taught me how to ride," she said.
Sayer said there were other families whose sons and brothers went to war. But there was a big difference between them and Sam.
"They were all lucky enough for their brothers to come back," she said.
Samuel McInturf joined the services while he was in high school.
"During his senior year (1967), he joined the Marines. He was in the first graduating class at Morgan. He left for bootcamp July 7, 1967 and was deported to Vietnam Dec. 7, 1967. His body made it home March 7, 1968; but he was actually killed Feb. 26 of 1968," Sayer explained.
And for Sayer, that day is forever etched into her heart and her memories.
"I'll never forget that awful day. It's been nearly 44 years; but I still remember how that was the only day mom and dad were off to pick my younger brother and I up from school. Our father informed us of what had happened shortly after arriving home. After that, I always remember my parents in that same parking spot and the events of that God awful day," she said.
One thing Sayer learned in the midst of her heartache was the bond that is shared by people in a small community.
One day, shortly after Sam's passing, there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, all I could see was food. The town had taken up a collection and everyone had pitched in to buy groceries or drop by home-made dishes. You don't see stuff like that when you don't live in a small town," Sayer said.
Sayer knew she would have to journey home for this special tribute to her brother and for all those who served in Vietnam from that area â€” but she had no idea what a deeply moving, mind blowing experience she was in for.
Shortly after making the decision to return home for the Vietnam Wall, she received an unexpected piece of correspondence.
â€śHi, how are you doing? I was at a meeting last night and they said you were coming back to Morgan county for the Vietnam Veterans wall. I will be riding in the escort for the wall on my motorcycle and it would be an honor for you to ride with me if you so desired. It would be on May 23; it will depart from the Zanesville VFW at 4:30 p.m. On the 23, we will go to the VFW in Zanesville where we and several hundred bikers will meet up with the wall. We will be led by parade escort down S.R. 60 to McConnellsville to the Commons where a short program will be (still in the planning stages) and a reception at the Malta VFW," the writer told Sayer.
Sayer learned her escort would be one of the hundreds of members of the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) that would be riding with the wall into McConnelsville.Â
"It was from a Patriot Guard Rider who went to school with my younger Marine brother John McInturf some 35 plus years ago. I really knew then I had to go home for this very special occasion. One that was going to honor my brother (Sam) and all the rest of our countyâ€™s Vietnam veterans â€” about 44 years late, but it was going to happen at last," Sayer said.
Without hesitation, Sayer accepted the man's generous offer; and then she waited anxiously for the big day (Sammy's big day) to arrive.
"Needless to say, I accepted his invitation and I thought the next two months to May 23 would never get here. Oh my â€” what an honor to participate in such a grand parade. The PGR are a very special group of individuals who protect the honor of the fallen hero and gives the family a peace of mind that their loved one will be buried with all the honor they deserve and have died for,"
Finally, the big day arrived and Sayer and her daughter began the six and a half hour journey home.
â€śMy daughter, Angie Jesuit decided to accompany me on my trip; and finally, May 22 arrived. We leftÂ IndianaÂ to begin our journey toÂ OhioÂ for one of the most important days of my life. I still couldnâ€™t believe this was happening. After all these (44) years, there was finally a welcome home parade for all the vets that was never achieved at the time of their return from the war so many years ago. And I was in it â€” all thanks to a Patriot Guard Rider with a heart of gold," Sayer said.
After miles and miles of what seemed like endless road, Sayer reached her destination.
â€śWe just couldnâ€™t get there fast enough â€” finally we arrived and had a great evening with friends. It had been 16 months since I had been home. Home will always be where I was raised. One can have two homes. I have lived in Knox for 20 years, I have many friends in Knox and Plymouth,Â but the childhood friends can never be forgotten either,â€ť she said.
That night, Sayer was so psyched up, she spent most of the night preparing for the next day.
â€śI was so excited I couldnâ€™t sleep the night before. It was so quiet; there were no cars on the highway, no tree frogs or even a cricket. Why was this town so quite? I was up most of the night â€” I showered, did my hair, nails and all that girls stuff... Hahhaha, I hadnâ€™t really ate a meal since probably Sunday, May 20. I was so sure something would go wrong and ruin the whole trip. But here I was in McConnelsville the morning of May 23," she said.
Sayer said the morning drug on for what seemed like an eternity; and she could hardly wait for the day's festivities to begin.
"After getting myself together, I went up town to Ginnyâ€™s flower Shop to wait on my Ride for the dayâ€¦ Angie had left with friends; and she would be back in time for the wall coming to town and to tape as we came into town. It was a long forenoon till 1p.m. when Tim was to pick me up at the Shop and join other riders to go meet the wall inÂ Zanesville," Sayer said.
Sayer said she couldn't believe that such a big event was taking place in her very small hometown.
This little town, with its town square, and two feet of concrete around the courthouse overlooked the town monument where many of the retired folk sit and talk about the towns business and everyone elseâ€™s, hahaha. I had moved away 21 years ago and now this quaint little town was the center of my life today and history will no doubt be made here today," she said.
Looking around at all the preparations was bittersweet for Sayer. And she hoped that the young people present for the wall's arrival could grasp some of the meaning behind the day's events.
"The younger generation had no idea what the times were like in the Vietnam era; but I surely hoped they would have an idea after this weekend. I was so excited I was about to bust," Sayer said.
The time for Sayer's ride was drawing near. And she couldn't wait to hop on the back of that bike to take place in such a historical moment for her home town.
"At 1:05 p.m., my Patriot Guard escort walked in the back door of the flower shop. He was five minutes late due to a traffic light â€” but it seemed like an hour," she said.
All a long the route, Sayer said people lined up to pay their respects.
"As we rode out of McConnelsville, I could see 'Welcome Biker' signs all over town. This was a BIG deal and lots of people had volunteered hundreds of hours over that last few weeks to make this happen. Hundreds of flags hung on our way toÂ ZanesvilleÂ (27 miles) away. The VFW inÂ ZanesvilleÂ had food and drink stands for all the riders. Could hear lots of stories being exchanged along the walk through all the different bikes. Renewed lots of friendships and made lots of new ones as well. It was about three hours till the wall was to travel back down S.R. 60 S. toward McConnelsville," she said.
As the Patriot Guard began getting into formation to lead the wall to McConnelsville, Sayer got another surprise â€” she would be riding right beside the wall and leading the procession back to hers and Sammy's hometown.
"The wall arrived inÂ ZanesvilleÂ about 4 p.m. and then they were starting to be staged for the sendoff. The Vietnam vets fromÂ MorganÂ CountyÂ lined up in a V at the front of the parade. Then following them was approximately 200 more bikers (all Vietnam vets). Then the truck pulling the Wall was to fall in. At this time, it was time for us to fall in line. Tim started the bike and away we went â€” My heart in my throat all I could do was hang on and try to keep from exploding with excitement on the BMW motorbike..Oh my God, this time he (Tim) pulled right in front of the white truck â€” I could touch theÂ TexasÂ license plate. Oh my, I called Angie on my cell and told her where I was â€” Hurray," she said.
While Sayer waited for the procession to start, her thoughts returned to the reason she was there that day, her brother Sammy.
"We sat there for a while till the state police could make sure all the intersections were closed and then we were off. Tim had told Ginny that the Wall was not coming to McConnelsville â€” Eva was bringing the wall to McConnelsville. Pinch me, I must be in heaven. What a tribute to my brother Sam and to all the Vietnam vets. I was thinking that it sure would be great if Sam was here, but I knew he was in my heart all the way," she said.
It was a long route, but everywhere the motorcade traveled, people came out to pay their respects.
"All the way south 27 miles to McConnelsville there were people standing along the highway, waving flags, saluting the flags we were carrying and oh what a feeling. Patriotism is alive! Sam would have been so pleased. He would have blushed all the way home. I can remember one spot in the road - two drive ways came into view and a little boy (about 7 to 8 years old) was sitting there in the middle of both. Just sitting there all alone on his four-wheeler watching us pass," Sayer said.
Even businesses left their posts to come pay tribute to the parade of people who were leading the wall to a small Ohio town.
"At one place, all the factory workers just north of town came out waving their flags â€” there must have been 50 flags in the ground in front of the entrance to the factory. Another company (Finley Fire Truck sales) had a flag blowing in the wind from one of the highest ladder trucks I had ever seen. What a ride and experience. I will never forget this week, if I live to be a 100. Tim asked several times, 'Isnâ€™t this better than watching from the curb?' I still am not sure if Tim realizes what a super day he made for me. He would have only been about 6 or 7 years old when Sam got killed but he had two brothers close to Samâ€™s age that he well could remember how it was," Sayer said.
Sayer said most of her life, everything that surrounded Sammy's death, including her pain and confusion, were rarely discussed. But this day, Sammy was honored and people were proud that he was from their town and thankful for the ultimate sacrifice he paid. On this day, nothing was hidden and Sayer celebrated and honored not only a soldier but her brother and friend.
"I was in the 8thÂ grade when my friend and Brother Sam died, and no one cared. Not like now when a death is at school they bring in all the doctors for the students to talk to. All the kids in my school didnâ€™t realize what had just happened. I spoke to an old school mate last week and she remembers this happening but there was never an explanation or a reason. No counselors came to our school. It was just something that happened and we didnâ€™t discuss it due to the Vietnam War. The boys and girls came back American Veterans and could not hold their heads up high," she said.
The Morgan County Herald immortalized Sammy's sacrifice through the words of his sister. Sharing that story with people from her home town was not only liberating, but it connected Sayer with people who had memories of her brother that they shared with her.
"After my story printed in the Morgan County Herald, several people Facebooked me. Wanting to share their story about Sam with me. Some telling me where they were, what they were doing when they heard the news about Sam getting killed in action. One family even shared that their sister was madly in love with Sam and was going to marry Sam when he returned. Her diary stopped the day of Samâ€™s funeral her daughter said. Yes that could be true; Sam had dated her but didnâ€™t want anyone to wait on him. He had told some of his friends he wouldnâ€™t be back. The war was really heating up and many boys at that time were getting killed. This has been such an emotional week, tears one minute, laughter the next. What a special week all thanks to a Special Patriot Guard Rider, and all the folks who came out to honor Sammy," Sayer said.
Sayer said another special part of her journey was the rider who invited her to accompany him in leading the wall back to her hometown.
"I spoke to a young lady at the wall and thanked her for loaning me her dad, a Patriot Rider, for the day of a very special mission. He had just finished cancer treatment around Christmas of 2011 and she didnâ€™t understand why he wanted to start riding again so soon. After seeing the whole town come out, on a Wednesday night, lining the streets, waving flags and all the respect the town gave the Wall and vets riding in the escort â€” She said â€” I get it now,â€ť Sayer said.
Sayer said she hopes that all vets gets their welcome home like Sammy finally did. They deserve it. She said she also hopes that the younger generation grasps the importance of moments in life like this one.
"After all these years of not talking about my brother or the war or any of the things that happened in the 60s, this really did make up for most of it," Sayer said. It amazes me that there are still thousands of Vietnam vets that have yet to get their 'Welcome Home Parade;' and I really hope they do one day soon. Until then, I hope the younger generation can understand the depth of what happened in their sleepy little town May 23, 2012.