AUGUSTA, Ga. - Michelle Phillips openly wept as she and her eight-year-old daughter, Samantha, attempted to find the name of one of her father's old Army buddies who was killed in the Vietnam War on the day that she was born more than 40 years ago.
Passing the black marbled walls bearing the names of more than 58,000 U.S. military troops killed during the war, Ms. Phillips was just one of hundreds who visited the replica of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, which came to Augusta last week. The memorial, which looks strikingly like the larger one located in Washington, D.C., drew large crowds to Hillcrest Memorial Park last Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"We're searching for the name of Richard E. Wolfe, who was my Daddy's best buddy," Ms. Phillips, a Hephzibah resident, told The McDuffie Mirror. "He died on the day that I was born."
Ms. Phillips' father, the late Ralph Gilbert Phillips, who passed away due to heart problems on July 12, 1995, served three tours of duty during the Vietnam War. Mr. Phillips, who retired after 20 years in the U.S. Army, was just one of the heroes who made it back home alive.
Other war heroes, such as Mr. Wolfe, weren't as fortunate. And because they weren't, Ms. Phillips believes all of them who sacrificed their lives should be honored as war heroes.
"They deserve to be recognized as heroes, because that's what they are," said Ms. Phillips, a high-profile event hospitality florist. "When I look at all of those names on the wall, I tell myself that the backbone they had is what I need to have in order to take care of some things in my personal life."
It marked the second time in 12 years that she has seen the name of her Dad's buddy. The first time around, she carried her father to see the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial replica when it came to the campus of Augusta State University.
"Daddy and I went and saw it and Daddy cried like a baby when he saw Mr. Wolfe's name on the wall," recalled Ms. Phillips, as tears streamed down her cheeks. "All I could do was hug him around the neck."
This past weekend, she took another member of her family - her daughter, Samantha, who will be starting third grade when school resumes.
Using a piece of paper and a pencil, provided by representatives of the American Legion, Samantha traced the name of Mr. Wolfe. Ms. Phillips considers it a piece of family history that she plans to keep for the rest of her life.
"I wanted Samantha to go with me to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica, so that she would have some sense of how many American troops were killed in that war," said Ms. Phillips. "I hope it will give her a better understanding of our history."
As for Ms. Phillips, the Vietnam War will always linger in her memory, as well as that of her sister, Angela Thompson, of Augusta.
Another Hephzibah resident, who spoke to the newspaper at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica was Clarence Ware, who served in the U.S. Marines for three years before joining the U.S. Army where he spent 22 years and six months before retiring.
He, too, is a Vietnam veteran. During the long and exhausting years of the war in Southeast Asia, Mr. Ware lost eight friends.
Accompanied by his seven-year-old grandson, Khalil Seven Ware, Mr. Ware walked along the wall in search of the names of those he once knew.
"This is a great educational tool to show what real heroes are all about," said Mr. Ware, who today is a corrections officer at Augusta State Medical Prison. "These men gave it all. They died for the cause. These men sacrificed their lives so that others, like me could live and so we could all continue to live in a free country."