Alabama Legion post pays tribute to Vietnam KIAs with new headstone

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Department of Alabama Legionnaire Damon Earl Warren remembers a particularly difficult year for the small city of Childersburg during the Vietnam War. That memory prompted Warren to join American Legion Post 68 in Childersburg around a year ago and put him and Post 68 on a mission: to honor the eight local residents killed in action during the Vietnam War.

The mission was accomplished on Memorial Day, when the post dedicated a headstone at Veterans Memorial Park honoring those residents. Family members of four of the eight residents were in attendance at the ceremony, which also included around 100 spectators.

After making the suggestion and a contribution to the project, Warren came up with the names of five local KIAs; other Post 68 members came up with the additional three names.

“This is always something I’ve wanted to do and part of the reason I joined (Post 68): to honor these people who have been fallen so long and haven’t been (honored) in town,” said Warren. “I wanted to make sure the tribute was paid to these men.”

The plaque honors Jesse E. Brewer, James E. Maness, Earnest P. Holmes, Melton H. Presley, Jack M. Jones, Lee W. Swain, Roger O. Lee and Barry C. Tomlin. One of the KIAs older brothers attended the ceremony, traveling 348 miles round trip to do so.

“I think he’s like 84 years old. He’s on oxygen,” Warren said. “He said there was nothing he wouldn’t do to continue to honor his little brother. It was definitely a touching sentiment. It was just so touching to think that they get it. They know what Memorial Day is. We’re there to honor his brother, who died at 19 years old in Vietnam.”

For Warren, the unveiling of the memorial was both a way of thanking those families and honoring their sacrifices. But it also was personal.

“Childersburg is just a little town of over 5,000 people,” Warren said. “In one year, in 1968, we lost four of our favorite sons in Vietnam. (The second and third killed) were only 20 days apart. Those are just crazy numbers.

“And there seemed that two or three had ties to my neighborhood. One had married a girl that was from my neighborhood. One of them lived two doors down. One of them lived just down the hill and around the curve from me. And the other lived across the train tracks. I had always known about them since I was about 6 or 7. These were all people who were close to someone in this town. We honored them all as best as we could.”