Down at the monument tolling the alphabet
Faces reflecting in the dark polished stone.
Hoping you can't find the names that you know are there
Names of the friends who can never come home.
And though no one speaks of it, searching the list of names
You can't help but look for your own.
And when you don't find it, you turn away silently,
Time to be heading back home.
- Charlie King from TRYING TO FIND A WAY HOME
by David Miller
Loveland, Ohio - This story gets a little fuzzy at times, but never-the-less, here is what I know to be true, mostly… and some a little fuzzy. It would be appreciated if readers would fill in some of the blanks and make corrections, not for the story’s sake, but for a twenty-one year-old, Vietnam Vet’s, sake.
CPL. Jeryl Linn Watkins was born July 14, 1946. He graduated Loveland High School June of 1964, enlisted in September, and raised his right hand to a Marine officer in 1965 . He solemnly swore to “Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. He never married. He lived until he spent Thursday, May 2, 1968, in Quang Tri Province, Viet Nam.
The Loveland son, now “Marine Rifleman” and “Assaultman” died in Viet Nam with the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, only nine days after being “In Country”. (A published obituary says only 4 days)
A Purple Heart was awarded.
“HOSTILE, GROUND CASUALTY - BOMB EXPLOSION”.
“Hostile, Died - Other Explosive Device”.
It has been probably been some thirty years ago I started attending the Loveland United Methodist Church when it was three blocks from my house. The church was where RecruitMilitary is now, the brown, plastic sided building just North of the Col. Thomas Ramsey Bridge over the Little Miami River at 422 West Loveland Avenue. At some point, I noticed that the American flag pole in the courtyard had a brass plaque attached to the concrete base. It read, “CPL. Jeryl Linn Watkins, July 14, 1946, Killed in Action, Vietnam, May 2, 1968.”
I was told that Watkins was the only Loveland resident who died in Viet Nam. He is not the only service member who died in Viet Nam with a Loveland address, but perhaps Watkins was the only one who lived in the city limits.
I, also at some long time ago starting attending the annual Memorial Day services held in Loveland. And after the services were over, I would go over to the church a few hundred feet away, read the plaque, pray, and salute - not the flag, but the Marine I did not know.
It has been a long, long time that this has been a ritual. I also would at some point that day, watch either the “Deerhunter” or “Born on the Fourth of July”. Both coming home movies. Jeryl, did not. I also spend some time each Memorial Day thinking about my friend, Linda Phillips Palo. Her three best high school friends, did not. The Viet Nam War invaded her perfect town. She once saw them again at “The Wall” and left them a poem that she wrote on her long airplane ride to D.C.
I can never hear
the sound of a helicopter
What I have lost.
In leaving today
the window of the airplane
on the runway
It has not rained
in L.A. for months
It rains today.
I have had
to reflect on this
And it is
always the same.
Skipping forward to this year, watching neither movie because they are not available on NetFlix, and the old VCR seemed like too much trouble, but earlier in the morning as usual went to the Memorial Day service. I left, stunned as usual by blank faces I photographed, knowing some were Gold Star Moms, then trudged over to the old church. I went to the flag pole, but no plaque. Hmmm, have I dreamt all of this? Wasn’t there a plaque? I knelt down and did see holes where one might have one been. Now thinking, maybe I remember right, but maybe I haven’t been here on Memorial Day for a while. I grew disappointed in myself that I had forgotten Jeryl Linn Watkins.
Saluting anyway, the forgotten Marine, I headed home. As I did, a man went to the pole and lowered the flag to half-staff. I watched, then introduced myself to Steve Balczo who said he worked at RecruitMilitary. I asked about the missing plaque - or my missing memory.
He said he knew nothing, but offered his help.
Later that day I went back to the pole, took a photo and published it in Loveland Magazine, asking, “Do you know this flag pole's history?”
I also sent an email to Loveland Mayor Linda Cox that evening because earlier at the memorial service she mentioned to the crowd the name of a Loveland son who died in Viet Nam. I asked her if she knew any more about the Marine or remembered anything about the plaque. Linda attends New Hope Baptist Church, which bought the church from the Methodists, who sold the buildings to RecruitMilitary. I was hopping she or New Hope members could shed some light.
She said she did not know there was ever a plaque there, but the next day at the city council meeting she told me I should contact Terry Stouder, long associated with the local American Legion Post and organized the Memorial Day services, taking over the task from George Anderson who did it for many, many years.
I did. The next afternoon.
Terry had the plaque. Had it for years. But, could never find out where it belonged. He said he found it at the side of the road, in the grass between the sidewalk and the Veterans’ Memorial. He said he took it to the American Legion, and the members also did not know where it came from. Terry said he contacted Watkin’s brother who still lived in Loveland, but the brother did not want it.
I told Terri where it came from and we met a couple hours later at the flag pole. Sure enough, however because of new, higher, concrete sidewalks just two of the original mounting holes were still visible. But, those two holes matched exactly. The puzzle clears, because in pouring new concrete at the base, the plaque would either be half covered or removed.
Filling in the blanks is a little fuzzy. How did the plaque come from the base of the pole to the American Legion? One resident, said that a former member of the Methodist Church saw the plaque on the ground during remodeling after RecruitMilitary bought the building. He alerted another member of the church, and it was picked up so as not to be discarded during the remodeling. He said it was taken to the American Legion, hoping they would be good caretakers.
Along the path as I tried to find the plaque was that former Marine, Larry Slagel, who is senior vice president of sales at RecruitMilitary and I, exchanged Emails.
Larry told me, “When the founder of RecruitMilitary and I were looking at property in Loveland, I remember standing in a room downstairs and looking directly out at the flag pole’s base.” Slagel said he was stunned by the fact that the day they were looking the building over, was exactly the day, the anniversary, Watkins was a casualty so many years before. “I am about 90% sure it was Jeryl. I am 99% sure it was a Marine on the plaque (I am a former Marine Officer, so it being a Marine on the plaque and the day he was injured was the same day we were in the building all stood out,”
Slagel said that after RecruitMilitary remodeled the building and moved in, “On one of the first ‘work days’, I noticed the plaque was gone.”
After I asked Terry Stouder to pose for a photo, I took the plaque inside to Slagel and returned it to the owners.
So, that’s a fuzzy story, yes? However several older Loveland residents who attended the Methodist Church at the time of Watkin’s death have promised to get back to me with more details if they can discover any. I am particularly interested to know more about Watkins, and who purchased the plaque. Gathered so far is that it was purchased by the congregation shortly after Watkin’s death. Also unclear is whether or not the flag pole was erected at the same time to honor the Marine. It seems that Watkins and perhaps his family attended the Methodist Church, but I do not know that to be fact.
When I told Slagel the plaque was found he said, “Wow. Unreal.”
Silently marching in ragged formation
Winding in wheelchairs to the cadence of canes
Making their way past the half-empty viewing stand
A solemn procession on one last campaign
Fifty-eight thousand names etched in black granite
Are calling in grim monotone
To the stern soldiers seeking an end to their journey
They've been trying for years to come home
Come home, come home. You who are weary come home
Home to a country in need of a healing.
We're waiting for you to come home.
- Charlie King from TRYING TO FIND A WAY HOME
Slagel said that RecruitMilitary will install the plaque back on the flagpole and have a rededication ceremony. “Returning it to the flagpole stays consistent with the original intent of honoring Jeryl,” said Slagel.
Please contact Loveland Magazine if you know more
or use the "Comment" button below.