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Column: Names on Memorial for Veterans reminder of lives lost

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It wouldn’t be surprising if most local residents failed to recognize the names of Gale Dixon and Billy Smith. They’ve been dead for more than 45 years and in their brief lives called Columbus home for only a couple of their years.

Nor should it be considered likely that the 242 names listed on a roll call appearing in today’s special SALUTE! section would register with many who read them. They died in the Civil War, approximately 150 years ago.

Dixon and Smith were victims of a later conflict, one that is still fresh in the minds of many who lived through the tumultuous period we identify simply by one word, Vietnam.

Despite the separation in years and wars, the names of Smith, Dixon and their brothers in arms who did not come home from the Civil War will be brought together in a couple of ceremonies this Memorial Day weekend.

The theme of Friday night’s Salute! concert by the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic at the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans is tied to the ongoing sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War.

There will be a symbolic recognition of those who were killed or died during that conflict in a flag-folding ceremony that will be followed by presentation

of the flag to members of the Bartholomew County Chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans.

During Monday’s traditional Memorial Day ceremony, two new names — those of Dixon and Smith — will be added to the 177 already etched into the columns of the memorial.

The recognitions at the two events are symbolic. Only those descendants still living in Bartholomew County would be likely to make any associations with ancestors who died or were killed in a war a century and a half ago. So far as is known, neither Smith nor Dixon has relatives living in the county. There might be former co-workers or friends who knew them in the brief time they called Columbus home, but it’s likely that time has dimmed their memories.

Faint though the present-day associations might be, the effort to individualize those who died or were killed in this nation’s wars should be seen as a way to recognize the enormity of the sacrifices they and their loved ones have had to make. It should also be a means to consider the question of what the world would be like had they been able to live out their full lives.

Consider that the average age of those 29 men from Bartholomew County who were killed or died during the Vietnam War was 22. How many lives and futures would have been changed had they come back and lived decades more as so many veterans did?

Unfortunately, these forms of recognition that we now employ are incomplete.

The 242 names from the Civil War in the Salute! section are actually only a partial listing. The real number of those county residents who were killed or died could be closer to 300 or even higher.

The list was drawn up a few years after the war ended by the Indiana adjutant general’s office, but it was based on incomplete data. For instance, there are 15 names inscribed on a marker in Newbern Cemetery of residents of that area who did not return from the Civil War, but several of those names were not on the adjutant general’s list.

What is remarkable is that there were only 17,000 or so residents in Bartholomew County during the Civil War. One can only wonder how things would be different had not the Civil War taken such a toll on this community.

The list of county dead from Vietnam has undergone a number of changes since it was developed during the planning phase for the Memorial for Veterans, which was formally dedicated in 1997.

The original list was compiled by The Evening Republican (forerunner of The Republic) throughout wars and was based on notifications from the Defense Department and local relatives of those who were killed. In the years following, other names from Vietnam have been added based on criteria established by a special committee charged with compiling and maintaining the list.

One of the factors considered was association with the county, which the committee determined could include a significant period of residence.

Through newspaper clippings detailing their deaths, it was found that Smith and Dixon had each worked and lived in Bartholomew County for at least a year before going into service. Dixon, who was 24 when he was killed in 1968, had worked on the line at Cummins Engine Co. after graduating from Vevay High School in 1964. He entered the Army in 1966.

Smith, who was originally from Edmonton, Kentucky, had moved to Columbus in 1965 and worked at Loudon’s Food Fair Grocery in Columbus before joining the Army in 1967. He was killed in 1968.

Ironically, details about their local connections surfaced during a search for information about another local man, Ronald Lee Smith, who was included on a list of members of the 1966 graduating class of Columbus High School who were killed in Vietnam. That search resulted in a finding that the 1966 CHS graduate was not the Ronald Lee Smith who was killed in Vietnam.

There are likely names of other individuals with local ties who died in our nation’s wars but have not been recorded on the memorial.

Incomplete as our lists might be, they still serve as an important reminder, not just of the lives that were given but the futures that were lost.

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