Honoring the departed; Traveling Vietnam War Memorial Wall coming to Austin

Published 8:53 am Monday, May 14, 2018

A platoon of U.S. Marines of Company E, Second Battalion of the Seventh Marine Regiment, First Marine Division, set off on a routine patrol on Nov. 13, 1966, near their base camp at Chu Lai in the Quang Tin Province of South Vietnam.

The Quang Tin Province was no stranger to combat, having been the site of a bloody battle between members of the Fifth Marines and North Vietnamese Army regulars on Aug. 10. With the presence of enemies a lingering threat, patrols such as this one were a necessity.

Leading the platoon on point was 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Tracy Stephen Tenhoff. The son of Marine Corps veterans, Tenhoff was an Austin High School alumnus, having graduated with the Class of 1965. He was now in the 11th month of his one-year deployment to South Vietnam, one of roughly 185,000 U.S. military personnel in Vietnam in 1966.

People walk along a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C from the American Veterans Traveling Tribute which will be stopping in Austin in May. Photo courtesy of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute

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During that time, he had only returned home to Austin once to attend his mother’s graduation from nursing school.

As the patrol headed into the jungle, it came to a bridge that crossed a stream. As point man, Tenhoff was the first to cross. But as he crossed, a sniper hidden in the thick growth on the other side took aim and fired, striking Tenhoff in the chest.

As he collapsed, bullets tore into the brush as his fellow Marines laid down suppressing fire. Another Marine grabbed hold of Tenhoff, dragging him to their side of the stream. A corpsman rushed to Tenhoff’s side and tried to treat the wound as the radioman called in a medevac chopper, but to no avail. Tenhoff succumbed to his wounds.

His name is located on Panel 12E, Row 69 of the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

Tenhoff’s name, along with the names of 29 of his brothers-in-arms from Mower County killed during the Vietnam War, can be seen on the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall while it is on display from Thursday, May 17, through Sunday, May 20, at the Mower County Fairgrounds near the Mower County Historical Society.

The Traveling Wall, which is an 80 percent scale of the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, D.C., is coming to Austin thanks to the efforts of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Committee.

“Our focus is on serving veterans and their families, so we looked at ways we could do something special for our veterans,” said Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Chairman Paul Spyhalski.”We looked at a variety of different opportunities and the one that really caught our attention was the possibility of bringing a Vietnam Wall here.”

The same names etched on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. are on the traveling exhibit that will stop in Austin in May. Photo courtesy of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute

On May 16, the American Legion Riders will escort the wall to the fairgrounds from Albert Lea. Volunteers will set up the wall Thursday morning, followed by a short ceremony. The wall will be ready for public viewing at noon on Thursday.

An opening ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 18, and a closing ceremony will be at noon on Sunday, May 20.

There will be 24-hour access to the wall while it is on display. There will be special lighting on the wall and honor guards from veterans organizations throughout Mower County will be present at all times.

The Mower County Historical Society will have several buildings open during daytime hours while the wall is up. MCHS Director Randy Forster said there will be a special Vietnam War exhibit on display in the Headquarters Building.

“I wanted to know how the Historical Society could participate and join in,” he said.”It’s a great project that has historical significance.”

For those involved, it is all about recognizing the Vietnam veterans, particularly those who that gave their lives.

“The Vietnam veterans, unfortunately, have kind of been forgotten over the years and have not received recognition for their service,” Spyhalski said.”A lot of Vietnam veterans are getting up there in age and travel is not as easy. We wanted to make sure they have that opportunity (to see the wall) here and honor the 30 names from Mower County that are on the wall as well.”