The 67-year-old, who served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, was reluctant, as were many of the men, to share much about his experiences there.
“I've never been able to go to the wall in Washington, D.C., because there are too many memories there,” Fusco said. Many of his friends are listed on the panels of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall there, he said.
In fact, as he helped to assemble the traveling wall, Fusco said he knew he was approaching a panel of names that would be difficult for him to see. He handed one of the tools he was holding to his wife, Sissy Fusco, who had come to take pictures. “I'm going to leave this with you,” he said as he sat down at one of the many round tables in the audience area.
Fusco and several other volunteer Vietnam veterans labored in the Thursday morning sun at the Villa di Felicita on the lush, green grounds to put together the traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. For this group of men, it seemed to be a labor of love as they assembled the panels, many bearing the names of their friends who were lost to the war.
The men were helping to prepare for one of the Country for our Country concerts scheduled to happen tonight to honor Vietnam veterans. The Friday night event is sold out, said Mary Pennington, who owns the Villa di Felicita facility with her husband, Paul Pennington.
Two of the other volunteer veterans helping to assemble the wall were Ed Birchbichler, 67, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter and Jon Lyons, 69. Both now live in the Hideaway Lake area. Birchbichler served in the Marines from 1965 to 1966. Birchbichler said the traveling wall is an important way for Vietnam veterans to receive the recognition they did not receive when they came home from the war.
Lyons flew 745 missions as a helicopter gunship pilot and has logged 750 hours of flight, he said. He served in Vietnam from July 1967 to July 1968.
The recipient of the Purple Heart and Silver Star medals said Thursday that he saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., several times, beginning in 1985, and that he has two good friends on the wall with whom he flew.
Lyons said sometimes when he has been there at the wall, some of the veterans hang back, not wanting to come close. “You just put your arms around them and walk them over there,” he said.
He credited the Penningtons, who are donating their venue for both concerts, with including a replica of the wall. “It is exceptional that Paul and Mary would include this,” Lyons said, referring to the replica.
Mrs. Pennington said there are some individual tickets for $200 remaining for the Saturday concert, and that some tables of 10 for $2,000 were still available. For the past three years, the Penningtons have raised money through Country for Our Country to benefit soldiers returning from tours of duty and have difficulty reintegrating into civilian life.
The past three events have raised more than $260,000 to purchase books, computers or to help soldiers finish their education. The Country for our Country concert will feature Rodney Atkins, recipient of the Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist of the year in 2006. He has multiple awards and multiple No. 1 hits including, “If you're going through hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” and “It's America.”
The Saturday concert also includes Derek Sholl and Heidi Newfield, as well as newcomers Wayland Hicks and The Backroad Travelers, Jaida Dreyer and Storme Warren.
Tonight's tribute to Vietnam veterans will feature food and drink; the traveling Vietnam Wall; live music by Kayla Conn featuring Nick Verzosa and the Noble Union Band; Miranda Lambert's father, Rick Lambert; and a word from Maj. Gen. Red Brown of Lindale.
She credited her husband, Paul, with preparing the grounds of the Villa di Felicita for the events, saying he worked late every night, as well as the Villa di Felicita chef, Linda Reed.
Mrs. Pennington said she expects about 300 people for the Friday concert and about 1,500 people for the Saturday concert.
“It not about the concerts, though, it's about the men and women who served,” she said on Thursday. The wars are not really over for those veterans, she said.
She said it takes a community working together to create such an event and make it successful. “They have opened their hearts to make this happen,” Mrs. Pennington said of all of the volunteers.
For additional information, contact Villa di Felicita at 903-597-0002 or visit www.countryforourcountry.org.