By Mary O’KEEFE
Adam Fletcher had no idea when he began his Eagle Scout project that it would touch so many lives, and in fact bring his community together, but that is exactly what happened on Sunday afternoon.
It began with a thunderous rumble that could be heard rolling down Honolulu Avenue as the Patriot Guard Riders joined veterans from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion as well as community members and Boy Scouts in honoring a Vietnam Missing in Action soldier.
Shortly after 3 a.m. on June 9, 1965, pilot 1st. Lt. Charles A. Dale and electronic sensor operator Sgt. David S. Demmon departed Vung Tau in Vietnam. Somewhere over the U Minh forest, the aircraft was shot down. Search and rescue forces sighted two men wading out of the water and the Viet Cong capturing them. Due to weather conditions the men could not be positively identified, according to the Prisoner of War network.
In 1973, a memorial was placed at the foot of what was called the Freedom Tree in the lower parking of the then newly constructed Verdugo Hills Hospital. As time went by the tree grew and the plaque was overcome by vegetation until a few months ago when veteran Jack Maison noticed it as he was leaving from a doctor’s appointment. Maison contacted Boy Scout leader Robert Fletcher and asked if his scouts could help with bringing the memorial back. Fletcher’s son Adam, who was looking for an Eagle Scout project, accepted the challenge.
“I had no idea it would become this big. It has gone far beyond an Eagle Scout project now,” Adam said.
When Adam began his project he had no idea who Demmon was or why the memorial was placed in Crescenta Valley, since he was not a resident. As Adam cleared the area around the old tree, laid stones and repaired the plaque, he learned who Demmon was and his connection to the CV community.
Long time Crescenta Valley resident and Demmon’s sister Carol Deutsch contacted Adam after reading about his project in the newspaper.
“From there it exploded,” Adam said of the community support.
On Sunday after weeks of weeding and planting and having a mason repair the plaque, it was rededicated at an emotional ceremony that included dignitaries, veterans and community members.
The motorcycle procession and veterans made their way from the VFW to the Verdugo Hills Hospital. Crescenta Valley High School JROTC presented the colors as about 100 people gathered to honor Demmon’s service and sacrifice for his country.
Deutsch was introduced by Mike Baldwin, adjutant American Legion Post 288.
“My mother is here in spirit,” Deutsch said.
Her mother had never given up the search for her son, she added. She traveled to Vietnam and flew his final route. She went to Washington, D.C. and spoke to military and government officials. Deutsch made of those trips with her.
The ceremony was to honor Demmon but Deutsch said it was also to honor Adam.
“I was thinking this kid [Adam] that is doing all of this [and] they can’t be far apart in age or in thought in the love of their country,” Deutsch said.
During the ceremony Deutsch said that Adam’s project prompted her to reread her brother’s letters. She shared his commitment to his country and concern not only for for those men who he fought along side, but for the Vietnam people.
“He had even adopted a little girl while he was over there,” she said.
She told the audience that even though her brother was still missing he had continued to be promoted.
She then held up a dark blue box. A hush fell across the veterans in the audience as she handed it to Adam.
“I found this medal and I want to give it to Adam,” she said.
Adam said he was overwhelmed by the response to his project but felt proud to have brought honor back to a soldier who went missing in a war 27 years before he was born.
The emotion had also weighed heavily on Deutsch as she relived the pain of still not knowing what happened to her brother.
“I thank my husband Evan for being there for me. This was one of the toughest months of my life,” she said. “I want to thank you, Adam, for allowinh me to remember the pain and my brother.”