VFW Magazine — May 2017
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Spirit Of America
Janie Dyhouse


The Spirit of America’s Story is a moving exhibit celebrating America’s history from 1775 through present day.

Army Sgt. David Sexton was manning an M109 self-propelled howitzer in Vietnam’s Quang Tri province on March 15, 1971, when the howitzer exploded. Sexton, who was serving with B Btry., 5th Bn., 4th FA, 5th Inf. Div., was killed. On the same day, his son, David, was born back home in Ohio.

Sexton’s wife, Patricia, waited for her husband’s remains to be returned. His remains were lost somewhere between Khe Sanh and Quang Tri City. Those remains have yet to be located.

Patricia has spent the past 46 years working to preserve the memory of her husband, as well as all of those who didn’t come home from Vietnam.

For years, she volunteered with Rolling Thunder Chapter 5 in Ohio. Rolling Thunder’s primary goal is to publicize accounting for those still missing from war. With that group, Patricia worked to bring the Vietnam Memorial traveling wall to the state to recognize the 137 men from Ohio whose remains never returned from Vietnam.

With her brother and sister-in-law, Patricia became active with the Firelands Military Vehicle Group LLC. She purchased a military jeep of her own.

“I still felt there was something else I needed to be doing,” Patricia said. “I wanted to honor all of our service members from all wars, as well as our police and firefighters.”

In 2004, Patricia met Ronald Smith, who also was involved with Rolling Thunder. The pair began contemplating an idea to build a traveling wall to honor all men and women in uniform from all wars.

“In 2013, we began the process for creating such a wall,” Smith said. “It kind of took off from there.”

Patricia and Smith met with tribute artist Ray Simon from Canton, Ohio. While excited about the idea of such a wall, he encouraged the founders to get out and talk about the project to garner support.

Smith said they traveled all over Ohio to talk about the wall and gauge interest. He said everywhere they went, people would ask how to get the wall — which wasn’t even yet constructed — to their communities.

By 2015, Smith and Patricia were researching images to give to Simon. They looked through various archived images, old magazines and Shutterstock, a website that provides stock photography to the public. Smith said finding images wasn’t so hard, but checking to make sure they weren’t going to violate copyright laws took a while.

“It took us about three and a half months to compile the images we wanted to use,” said Smith, who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the 2nd Marine Bn., 4th Marine Div. “We cut the images out and spread them on the floor in the order we wanted. Then we took photos of the concept.”

Based on each section of the timeline, a developer planned the size of the panels. Then Simon drew the panels, and high-res photos were taken to be used for the panels.

The first 40 feet of the wall, which is currently 70 feet in length, was completed between July and November 2015.

Having a passion for this exhibit, Smith and Patricia provided more than the necessary seed money to get it going. When they started fundraising, they were able to raise $40,000.

“With this wall, I feel that I’m finally giving back to those who served our country both past and present,” Patricia said. “I needed to feel like I was doing my part to give of my time to show how thankful I am. We must never forget what these brave men and women who wear uniforms have given up.”

Named “The Spirit of America’s Story,” the wall is 92 inches tall by 70 feet long. In time, the founders plan to add an additional 30 feet. Represented on the wall is the nation’s history from 1775 through present day.

“One of the objectives in the creation of this project was to complete a traveling wall that would define us as a country,” said Simon, who has been commissioned by professional athletes, entertainers and the Department of Defense. “It captures a timeline that visually represents the insurmountable challenges this nation has faced.”

Smith and Patricia will take it wherever there is a request.

“Anywhere America’s sense of patriotism is ignited is where we take it,” Smith said. “We have taken it to five schools and four more have requested it.”

Patricia said she wants to get the wall to as many schools as possible because she doesn’t believe history is being taught as it should be.

“I wish I was younger so I could have more time to take this wall around the country,” Patricia said. “Doing this wall is the third most important thing I have done in my life. Being married to my husband was No. 1, raising my children and having grandchildren was No. 2.”

For more information on “The Spirit of America’s Story” traveling wall, visit www.spiritofamericasstory .com or email americasstory@aol.com.

EMAIL jdyhouse@vfw.org