Wareham veteran headed to Washington, D.C. to read aloud names on Vietnam Memorial

Nov 5, 2017

Vietnam veteran and VFW Post 2846 Chaplain Ervin “Tootsie” Russell remembers finding solace at the dedication ceremony of Washington, D.C.’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, 10 years after he came home.

“That was a purging experience,” said Russell.

Twenty-three years old when he returned from the war in the Southeast Asia, Russell said it was difficult to find others who shared his experience. That’s because no one was talking about the war. And when it came to people who did speak up, Russell said it was impossible to know if they actually served.

“There were some wannabes,” he said.

This year marks the Vietnam War Memorial’s 35th anniversary. It’s a special occasion for Russell who will travel to Washington, D.C. There, he will participate in a ceremony where many will read aloud the 57,939 names of those who died in the war.

The event takes place over four days, and Russell made sure he will say the name of his step-brother, PFC Carlos Rose of Onset. Twenty years old at the time, Rose was killed in action on May 12, 1969 at Hamburg Hill in Vietnam.

At five-year intervals since the opening dedication, Russell has participated in that particular ceremony, making sure he says Rose’s name each time.

“It’s been my pilgrimage,” he said.

Russell, who was in the military for two years, served in Vietnam in 1971 and recalls the exact amount of time he was there – 10 months, 11 months, 5 days. In the years since, he’s been active in a number of veterans activities, including the Mass Vigil Society. Founded in 1982, the group advocates for a full accounting of prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Locally, Russell has been active in veterans efforts through the years, including helping to bring the Vietnam Moving Wall to town this summer. A half-size replica of Washington, D.C.’s memorial, the Moving Wall was in town five days and attracted thousands of visitors. Looking back to the town’s 2011 ceremony, Russell said he was proud to have read President Barack Obama’s proclamation that year.

“It was a big honor for me to recognize that,” he said.

This year, Wareham will celebrate Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11. The program will start at 11 a.m. and include several speakers, such as Rep. Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham), paying tribute to veterans. Later in the day, at 1 p.m., a dedication ceremony will be held to open the new Lukey Community Park – named in honor of World War II veteran Major Philip Lukey – on Hathaway Street.