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John Charles Bertschinger of Russellville is one of two United States veterans from Franklin County to be inducted into the In Memory Program.

Two from Russellville number among honored Vietnam veterans

More than 500 Vietnam veterans, including two from Russellville out of eight across the state, were recently inducted into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s In Memory Program for 2019.

The program honors Vietnam veterans whose lives were cut short as a result of their service after they returned home from Vietnam.

June 15 VVMF hosted more than 2,000 attendees at the annual In Memory ceremony on the East Knoll of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where each 2019 honoree’s name was read aloud – including John Charles Bertschinger and Harold G. Hill, both of Russellville and both of who died in 2011.

“Although John was not living in Russellville at the time of his death in 2011, he considered Russellville his hometown,” said Doris Hutcheson, who is a sister-in-law to Bertschinger, who served in the U.S. Army. “He is buried in our family cemetery at my house in the Old Nauvoo community here in Franklin County.”

Hutcheson penned a biography for her brother-in-law for the VVMF program, which commemorates his life and achievements:

“God, country, and family were the three loves of John Charles Bertschinger. John was born on May 12, 1948, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Ernest Charles Bertschinger and Donna Beatrice Regan. He served with the United States Army in Vietnam from 1968 through 1969 and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, and the Bronze Star Medal.

“While in Vietnam, John was exposed to Agent Orange, which caused him to have many physical ailments including ischemic heart disease which caused his death on October 31, 2011.

“After his tour of duty in Vietnam, John worked for Bell South Telephone Company and AT&T in Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama, where he made many lasting friendships.  He also served in the Army National Guard.

“John was married to Myra Nell Hutcheson for 40 years. They had 4 children, 4 grandchildren, and 2 step-grandchildren, all of whom cherish his memory and travel often to Old Nauvoo, Alabama, where John is buried in the West Family Cemetery. A United States flag flies over his grave to commemorate his love for and service to his country.

“John, called Bert by his friends, was an ordained deacon, and he always carried a New Testament in his pocket so that he could tell others how to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. He loved spreading the gospel message, spending time with his family, helping others, and going on mission trips with his church.”

Hutcheson said she was impressed with how Julianna Blaylock, outreach manager for VVMF, kept the family informed of all the details concerning the induction program and ceremony.

“Unfortunately, no one from John’s family was able to attend the ceremony, but we were able to view it live online, and we will receive a DVD of the ceremony where the names of all this year’s inductees were read aloud by family or staff members,” Hutcheson said.

This year, 534 service members were honored during the ceremony.

“For many Vietnam veterans, coming home from Vietnam was just the beginning of a whole new fight,” said Jim Knotts, president and CEO of VVMF. “Many never fully recovered, either physically or emotionally, from their experiences. As these veterans pass, it is our duty and solemn promise to welcome them home to the place that our nation has set aside to remember our Vietnam veterans.”

The plaque that honors these veterans was dedicated as a part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site in 2004. It reads: “In Memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”

Honoring that service is a crucial point for Hutcheson, who said she urges people to “remember the many, many, many servicemen who gave so much for our country and for us, not only in the Vietnam War but also all the wars.”

“It is staggering to see how many died during and after the Vietnam War alone,” Hutcheson added. “Nearly 60,000 died in action, and more have died since as result of injuries, PTSD and exposure to Agent Orange. The In Memory Program has already recognized more than 4,632 of those soldiers who have died since the war. There are many others who need to learn of the In Memory Program so that they also can be recognized and remembered for their service.”

In addition to the Russellville honorees, the following men from Alabama were also inducted:

  • Paul Bailey Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, Prattville
  • Walter O’Donald Cameron, U.S. Army, Enterprise
  • Robert Leo Hickman Jr., U.S. Navy, Huntsville
  • George Wesley Medley, U.S. Army, Tuscaloosa
  • Michael Wayne Miller, U.S. Army, Brownsboro
  • Marvin Ray Muir, U.S. Army, Leeds

As noted in his biography, Hutcheson said Bertschinger died at the age of 63 as a result of heart disease caused by his exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. He was married to her sister, Myra Nell Hutcheson Bertschinger, who now lives in Calera, and they had four children: Jeremy, Jeffrey, Joseph and Bonnie. “He was a deacon at Russellville First Baptist Church and worked for Bell South Telephone Company,” Hutcheson added.

Veterans inducted to the In Memory Program each have a personal remembrance page online in the In Memory Honor Roll at www.vvmf.org/honor-roll. Their photos will also be displayed around the country when VVMF’s mobile exhibit, The Wall That Heals, is on display in an honoree’s home state.

“All of these tributes will serve as a lasting reminder of his service and sacrifice,” Hutcheson said.

For more information on the In Memory program or to apply to have a loved one honored in 2020 visit www.vvmf.org/inmemory.

“Applying for induction into the In Memory Program is an easy process,” Hutcheson added. “A one-page application is on the VVMF’s website. A copy of the veteran’s DD2 14 form, a copy of the death certificate and two photos of the veteran are also required.” Hutcheson said she was in college during part of the Vietnam War and was impacted greatly when her brother Neil was sent to Vietnam “because we didn’t know if he would return or, if he returned, what shape would he be in,” she said. “Fortunately, he returned, but he also suffers from numerous health problems that I believe are related to his exposure to Agent Orange.

“Sometimes we read the death numbers associated with a war, and it is no more than just a number – but we need to remember that those numbers have names, faces and families, and each family was directly impacted by their soldier’s service,” Hutcheson added. “We need to remember each one. We must never, never forget their service.”