Thursday, July 13, 2000

Moving Wall: Behind each name lies someone's pain

A veteran honors his lost friend

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Thomas Laskey covers his eyes after finding names of friends on The Moving Wall.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        Folks in Northern Kentucky remember Thomas Laskey as one of the best basketball players at Newport High.

        Thomas Laskey can't forget Clarence Hall.

        He's the reason Mr. Laskey, now 50, went to see The Moving Wall — the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — this week at the Cincinnati State campus.

        “I had to get an etching of his name,” Mr. Laskey said.

        Mr. Hall, who died in Vietnam, was a childhood friend, the brother Mr. Laskey never had. And when Mr. Hall was missing in action during the war, Mr. Laskey was among a dozen young men who vowed to go over and find him. Mr. Hall was later declared dead by the military.

        “I don't know who we thought we were, but that's what we did. We all went into different branches of the service because we had to find Clarence,” he said.

  The Moving Wall will be open 24 hours through 7 p.m. Friday at Cincinnati State, with free parking on campus.
        After averaging 18.6 points a game for the Wildcats in 1968, Mr. Laskey joined the Marine Corps. Two weeks after he left town, he found out that three colleges wanted to offer him scholarships to play basketball.

        A few months after that, he was on a rescue mission in Vietnam when a bullet shattered his hip. The spray of bone fragments destroyed a kidney, tore a hole in his liver and splintered his spine.

        He came home in a wheelchair and was given a hero's welcome. Thirteen police cars escorted him from the airport to a rally in the high school gym.

        Ten years later, Mr. Laskey injured a leg playing wheelchair basketball — “The game I love” — and the leg was amputated.

        But don't feel sorry for Thomas Laskey. He doesn't.

        He's the one who came home and married his high school sweetheart, Beverly.

        He's the one who got to see his daughter, Kelly — now 30 — grow up.

        He's the one who has a home now in Springfield Township.

        He's the one who got to play basketball again and the one who can still get around in his Chevy Blazer.

        “A hundred and twenty-nine thousand miles since '95,” he said. “You compensate. You can't walk. So you drive.”

        Which is how he got to the wall and saw dozens of people expressing their gratitude. Some touched the memorial with their bare hands. Others planted small U.S. flags in the grass. Children walked alongside and marveled at the sheer number — 58,000 — of names. The same things that have happened in more than 720 cities visited by the moving wall since 1984.

        Thomas Laskey made an etching of his buddy's name and broke down weeping.

        “I don't want to believe Clarence is gone. It's deep, man. My mind won't accept the things it has to accept,” Mr. Laskey said on the phone.

        Then he started to cry. He apologized. There was a long silence. Then he spoke again.

        “In life, there is a plan for everyone. I don't know exactly what mine is yet, but I'm supposed to help people. I want to help the young guys who are struggling.”

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