A moving experience: Traveling exhibit brings out emotions

Published 12:49 am Saturday, November 10, 2012

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Delcie Levasseur locates the name of James F. Tindell, her high school sweetheart, Friday afternoon on the traveling Vietnam Wall at the Miss-Lou Patriotic Tribute.

NATCHEZ — The butterflies of first love came fluttering back to life for a Vidalia woman Friday as she stepped into the Natchez Convention Center.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Volunteer Dennis Moritz helps Delcie Levasseur locate the name of James F. Tindell, her high school sweetheart, Friday afternoon on the traveling Vietnam Wall at the Miss-Lou Patriotic Tribute.

But Delcie Levasseur’s high school sweetheart was not waiting for her with flowers or a hello kiss. His name, etched onto the Miss-Lou Patriotic Tribute Vietnam Wall replica, was waiting for her fingers to run across it on the wall among the names of thousands of other fallen soldiers.

James F. Tindell was killed in the Vietnam War when he was 19. Levasseur, 17 at the time, had moved away with her family from Morgan City, La., where the two lived, and had no idea “Jimmy” was to serve in Vietnam.

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Levasseur, 66, did not discover that Tindell was killed in Vietnam until a few years ago.

“I stumbled across a website about the wall, and there was his name,” she said. “It really upset me.”

All of the memories and emotions of her first sweetheart, Levasseur said, flooded her heart when she found his name on the wall.

“I never planned to see him again, but knowing that I can’t now, it’s just so sad. Seeing his name on that wall really made it real,” she said dabbing tears from her eyes with a tissue.

The replica of the Vietnam Wall is set up at the Natchez Convention Center this weekend as part of the Miss-Lou Patriotic Tribute.

Army National Guard veteran John Fleming of Natchez was searching the wall for the name of a man he never met but whose name he sees almost every day.

Staff Sgt. John Henry Ralph Brooks’ helicopter was shot down in South Vietnam in May 1969. He was declared missing in action and later dead after his remains were not recovered.

Fleming has no family connection to Brooks but wears a metal bracelet with Brooks’ name engraved on it.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — John Fleming holds up his metal bracelet inscribed with the name John H. R. Brooks to the same name he located on the traveling Vietnam Wall Friday afternoon at the Miss-Lou Patriotic Tribute. Fleming, a 28-year Army National Guard veteran, bought a bracelet inscribed with Brooks name and has done research on the soldier who died in South Vietnam.

“I was at a veterans’ event, and there was a bucket of bracelets, and I just reached in and grabbed his and bought it,” he said.

Fleming said he has felt a connection with Brooks ever since then.

“A lot of the guys I trained went to Vietnam, so I really feel connected to him,” he said.

Levasseur said she feels a connection not just with her first love but to all the soldiers whose names are written on the wall.

“Seeing all these names, all these people gave their lives for us,” she said. “How many people appreciate that? I hope everyone does.”

The tribute is open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. today and from 7 a.m. until an 11 a.m. Veterans Day program at the exhibit Sunday.