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In Somerset, Kentuckians visit replica of Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Navy veteran Thomas Burns traced the name of a shipmate who died in the Vietnam War in 1966.
Navy veteran Thomas Burns traced the name of a shipmate who died in the Vietnam War in 1966.

SOMERSET — Verna Ott thought her first cousin, Army Sgt. George Elmer Burchett, would be safe when he left for Vietnam in 1965 because he was a cook.

But his unit was attacked, and even cooks had to grab a rifle during a firefight, Ott said.

Burchett, who was married and had two young children, was killed Sept. 18, 1965 — one of more than 58,000 Americans who died in the war.

"I thought my poor dad would never stop crying," said Ott, 64, of Wayne County.

Ott and her husband, Bill, who served as a clerk in Vietnam, went to Somerset on Tuesday to visit a traveling half-scale replica of the black-paneled Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Ott hadn't expected the display to affect her so deeply, but she cried when she touched her cousin's name.

"I wish more would come and pay homage to them," she said.

The display is on the front lawn of The Center for Rural Development on U.S. 27 in Somerset.

On Tuesday, three service members put a wreath at the memorial as Chris Paul, a veteran with a POW-MIA awareness group called Task Force Omega, played Taps and Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

There are events scheduled at the memorial each day at noon, culminating on Saturday.

The replica wall will be available for people to visit until 1 p.m. Sunday, said Michael Cornett, marketing director for The Center for Rural Development.

Cornett said people have visited the wall display throughout the day since it opened Monday. The display includes a museum and information center.

On Tuesday, Zella Loveless, 77, came to find the name of her nephew, Edward Lee Polson, who died in Vietnam in December 1967.

"I felt it was great," said Loveless, of Pulaski County.

The traveling wall raises money for an education center planned near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The education center will include photos of U.S. military members who died in the war and information about them, Bob Dobek said. He and his wife, Brenda, are site managers for the replica.

One goal of the traveling display is to collect photos for the center.

As of Tuesday afternoon, nine Kentuckians had submitted photos to be scanned into the computer at the traveling display, Dobek said.

The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial lists the names of 1,100 Kentuckians who died in the war, including 23 missing in action, according to its Web site.

Dobek said that in addition to bringing photos to the traveling wall display, people can submit them online at www.vvmf.org.

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