35 years later, Arcola soldier receives honor

35 years later, Arcola soldier receives honor

By: Mike Helenthal

By: Mike Helenthal

By: Mike Helenthal

By: Mike Helenthal

TUSCOLA –After 35 years, an Arcola High School graduate and Army soldier is finally getting recognition for the service to his country that took his life in Vietnam.

But that recognition is not coming from the government as family members had hoped.

Cemetery workers placed an official military marker near his headstone at the township cemetery earlier this week, bringing an end to a story that started in Tuscola in the 1970s.

Richard Carson had just married his high school sweetheart, Joyce Grimm, when he was called to boot camp for combat training in preparation for service in Vietnam.

Grimm, now Amacher, of Savoy, honeymooned with her husband while he trained in Louisiana.

"I still have all of his letters," she said, as well as some other keepsakes he had sent her during his tour of duty.

But on March 28, 1971, Mr. Carson was killed in action during an attack on his base camp. He was 21 years old, and was due to return home within weeks. His new bride was devastated by his death.

"We were luckier than some of the others because his body did come back, which brought some closure," she recalled. "But it was still horrible at the time." Amacher said she felt bitter about his death and anger toward the government for being in the war, so she turned down a bronze plaque that usually accompanies a veteran's death.

"I was not particularly thrilled with the Vietnam War and I was very bitter at the time," she recalled. "I didn't want that plaque on his grave."

But if time doesn't heal wounds, it at least makes them bearable.

At the urging of her brothers, Doug Grimm of Hugo and Jim Grimm of Tuscola, Amacher agreed that adding the marker to the grave now might be an additional way to bestow honor upon her lost husband.

Amacher had moved on some 10 years after Mr. Carson's death, remarrying and giving birth to a son, and she said, "now it's just time to honor him for his sacrifice."

So her brother Doug Grimm started looking into the paperwork required to get the government's assistance in securing the plaque for Mr. Carson's grave site.

But he was having difficulties. He contacted local veterans' officials and then went to the Veterans Administration. He enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, and made military connections in Washington. Still, he couldn't find a way to get the plaque.

He was told that the law on giving plaques to veterans had changed sometime after the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy when the VA decided to quit offering the $300 plaques to soldiers who already had a headstone.

Since Mr. Carson did have a marker, and Amacher had turned down the plaque initially, it seemed Mr. Carson might never be given credit for his service.

"It started to seem like I was talking to a wall," Doug Grimm said. "But I just felt like the man deserved some credit for giving his life for his country."

The family finally just gave up on getting the government to provide the $300 plaque.

Instead they bought it themselves from a company in Washington that actually makes the plaques.

Doug Dietrich, the cemetery's caretaker, with the help of Ron Stabler, Tuscola VFW Post 10009 commander, and Dan Kelly, ensured that the plaque was installed properly. Doug Grimm said Dietrich had "put the fire back underneath me" to keep pursuing the marker.

"It was the first one that we've set for a soldier from Tuscola who died in Vietnam," Stabler said.

Stabler said local veterans have become angry over the issue and the change in the law that keeps the markers away from deserving vets. He said they would be bringing the issue up at an upcoming district meeting to get others talking about changing the VA's rules.

He said those who helped set the marker did so without expecting compensation.

"We do this free," he said of the local vets. "We don't charge for materials or anything. We do that as a service for the vets and their families."

Doug Grimm said the family appreciated the help of the local vets and their concern over getting a marker for Mr. Carson.

"I could tell this really hurt them, how hard we've had to work for this," he said. "It's been a fight for 10 years and a hassle, but Richard is finally getting the recognition he deserves. I'm just glad it got done."

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