ORANGE BEACH Bell tolls in remembrance of fallen ‘Red Warriors’
Marc D. Anderson z firstname.lastname@example.org
The bell tolled 285 times during a Memorial Day ceremony in Washington, D.C. in May, honoring 253 U.S. Army “Red Warriors” and 32 support personnel who died during the Vietnam War.
That bell, borrowed from Orange Beach Fire-Rescue, was driven nearly 1,000 miles from Alabama’s coast to D.C. by a grateful U.S. Army (Retired) Lt. Col. Whitney Echols, who served in the 1st Battalion 12th Infantry “1/12th Red Warriors” in Vietnam and is now president of the Red Warriors Vietnam Association.
The 12th Infantry is one of the Army’s oldest and most decorated regiments dating back to the Civil War.
Echols’ bell story begins with a call to his friend Councilman Jeff Silvers, who directed the veteran to Fire Chief Shane Phillips and the fire department’s bell that’s used for various occasions, including funerals. The chief didn’t hesitate and lent the bell to Echols Echols, an Orange Beach resident, attended this week’s council meeting to return the bell and offer his gratitude to the city.
The “Red Warriors” 2014 reunion and remembrance started on the morning of Saturday, May 24, with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The afternoon wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
“That evening, a ceremony was conducted to honor the Red Warriors who were listed on the Vietnam Wall,” Echols said. “After each name was read, the Orange Beach Fire Department bell was rung. The bell was rung 285 times to honor the Red Warriors who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country — this contained names of Red Warriors from 43 states, Puerto Rico, Philippines and three of which who were from Alabama.”
As company leaders began to read the names of the fallen, Echols said each one welled up and had to pause before finishing.
“There was not a dry eye among the 225 people attending this ceremony,” he said. “I assure you this ceremony would not have been nearly as effective or honorable if a bell had not been used. ... The bonding effect it has on men when they serve in combat is like no other. I can’t tell you how many Red Warriors and their guests told me how honorable in meaning the ceremony was to them, especially the ringing of the bell.”
He expressed his “sincere appreciation” to the city and presented a photo of the ceremony to Phillips.
Mayor Tony Kennon countered by saying all the thanks should be received by Echols, fellow veterans and families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“When he called me the only one I could think of was Shane having that bell and I put them together and I heard nothing else from Whitney,” Silvers said. “Nothing else from Whitney until after he had gotten back worn out, tired and he told me about ringing that bell 285 times. That was awesome.
“Shane Phillips, thank you because what you’ve done in allowing that bell to travel with that man — that man drove that bell, he didn’t fly, he drove it up there — means so much to that retired veteran. It really does and I appreciate what you did.