Shue procession to exceed expectations
By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
CONCORD – On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.
“Every Vietnam veteran suffers on that day,” said Staff Sergeant John “Tilt” Meyer (ret.). “When that city fell, it was a bad day in my life.”
Now, Meyer and other Vietnam Veterans, who feel that they deserted the people of Saigon and Vietnam in 1975, may have something a little more positive to remember the day by.
On April 30, 2011, Sgt. 1st Class Donald Monroe Shue will finally make his way home after more than 40 years.
Shue, an Army Green Beret, was serving with two others when they went missing on a mission Nov. 3, 1969. Shue, Staff Sgt. William Brown and Staff Sgt. Gunther Wald were last seen wounded 30 miles inside Laos, near Ban Chakevy Tai in Saravane Province. According to military documents, Shue and the other two men — as well as several men who escaped — were attached to a unit performing highly classified maneuvers throughout Southeast Asia.
The family was notified and Shue was classified as missing in action. On Jan. 15, 1979, he was classified as killed in action, and a military marker sits above an empty grave at Carolina Memorial Park in Kannapolis.
Weather had prevented a recovery team from entering Laos until days after Shue and his comrades went missing and no remains, or graves, were found. The United States never negotiated for the more than 600 American soldiers lost in Laos and no American soldier has ever been released, according to the Rolling Thunder Web site.
Later, it was revealed that Shue was part of the “secret war” in Vietnam — a member of the MACVSOG, or Military Assistance Command, Vietnam — Studies and Observation Group, he was an elite soldier, only one of 400-500 that who ran recognizance missions across the borders of Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos.
Meyer, co-author of “On The Ground: The Secret War in Vietnam,” met Shue shortly before he was classified as Missing in Action in 1969. He will be in town Friday to help celebrate bringing Shue home.
“I always called him the ‘Special Forces Poster Child,’” joked Meyer. “He was so handsome in his beret, always smiling. … He was a class act and highly respected by all who knew him.
“I only knew him a few days, then he was off and the rest is sad history,” he added. Meyer will speak at the ceremony in Concord on Saturday, one of what is anticipated to be thousands of military personnel in attendance at the event.
Before the ceremony in Concord, Shue’s body will be flown from Pearl Harbor to Charlotte-Douglas Airport, where it will be met by the men and women of Rolling Thunder, Patriot Guard Riders and other military and civilian motorcycle clubs, which will escort him in a rolling procession to Kannapolis, with stops along the way.
Shue will be escorted by the Concord Police Department, the Kannapolis Police Department and the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office, with support from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the North Carolina Highway Patrol. In addition, two U.S. Army North Carolina National Guard AH-64D “Apache” helicopters will join the procession convoy from the air.
The convoy will travel through Charlotte on Interstate 85 north to Interstate 485. At exit 33, the procession will detour onto N.C. 49 North and travel through Harrisburg to Warren C. Coleman Boulevard to Union Street and into downtown Concord.
In downtown Concord, a ceremony will be held when the procession arrives, estimated to be at about 11 a.m. Saturday. The ceremony will include several musical performances and special presentations from government and veteran groups, including Meyer.
“This is about the spirit of the corps,” said Meyer on why he is attending the events this weekend. He lives in California. “This is about our soldiers. …
“If I had disappeared, I know that Donnie would be there for my family,” said Meyer.
Jeff Phillips, president of Rolling Thunder N.C. Chapter 2, said the event will be huge.
“It’s going to be big,” he said. “It’s going to be real big.”
Phillips would not guess how many motorcyclists would be escorting Shue, only to say it could be as many as 1,000 to 10,000.
“They’re coming from everywhere,” he said. “The family called me and said they wanted it to be big, so I politely invited the world.”
While Meyer will travel from California, he isn’t the only person coming from far away and is not nearly the person travelling the farthest.
Nick DiBenedetto of Rome, Italy, holds that distinction. DiBenedetto will arrive Friday for the ceremony. He met Shue briefly in 1956 and wore a POW/MIA bracelet honoring Shue for years. Others will travel from New Orleans, Florida, Delaware, Maine and all other parts of the United States for the ceremony.
Concord Mayor Scott Padgett also hesitated to estimate how many men and women would come for the ceremony, but hoped that citizens in all parts of the county along the procession route would stand on the side of the road to honor Shue and his family. The city is encouraging everyone to wave small American flags and asking businesses and residents along the route to display American flags and other patriotic items.
“Our goal as far as the ceremony is to have a brief, somber and respectful ceremony to honor Sgt. Shue and his family,” said Padgett Tuesday afternoon.
Padgett admitted Shue likely would not have gotten this reception had he come home from the war in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
“Unfortunately, there were such mixed feelings about that war that a whole generation of soldiers didn’t get the thanks and respect they deserve,” said Padgett. “They didn’t choose the war, the war chose them.”
After the ceremony in Concord, the procession will continue to Kannapolis, where the body will lie in state at Whitley’s Funeral Home until 6 p.m. A ceremony will also be held in Veterans Park to honor Shue when the convoy gets to Kannapolis.
Shue will be buried with full military honors under that headstone that currently sits over an empty grave in Carolina Memorial Park on Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the end of Operation Homecoming in 1973, more than 2,600 Americans did not return from Southeast Asia and were unaccounted for. Since then, the remains of 900 Americans killed in the war have been recovered and returned to their families.
Shue’s name is located at 16W Row 24 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.