COLUMBIA — Larry Dryden has 57 buddies to find.
Next month, Dryden, a veteran of the Army's 1st Aviation Brigade, will be looking for the names of his fellow soldiers and friends at what he describes as "probably the greatest memorial for veterans," the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Dryden is one of a group of 12 Vietnam veterans from the Columbia area who will be taking a bus Sept. 14 to Washington, D.C.
The veterans heard about the Central Missouri Honor Flight program that offers veterans a round trip from Missouri to Washington to visit the national war memorials, according to Larry Coleman, a former Seabee of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1. After that discovery, the group, which meets every Tuesday morning at the Columbia Vet Center, began to discuss making a weekend trip to visit the nation's capital.
Joy Rissmiller, the owner of Adventures in Travel, a Columbia-based tour service, donated a 32-seat passenger bus and the services of a driver to take the group to Washington, Coleman said.
"We couldn't have done this without Joy giving us this bus," said Bill Bradshaw, a veteran of the Army's 24th Transportation Company.
Each member taking the trip will pay $385 to cover the costs of hotel rooms, gasoline and breakfast. They will also bring additional money to pay for lunch and dinner, Coleman said.
Coleman will be using $500 he received from the estate of his brother, Dewayne Coleman, a Navy veteran who died in 2010, to buy supplies for the trip and to help cover the expenses of the trip for one of his fellow group members, he said.
For many, this will be their first time seeing the memorial.
Both Coleman and William Mickey, a former Army Alpha Company 169th construction engineer, will be looking for the names of their former classmates at the memorial.
In addition to searching for the names of nine of his fellow service members, Jerry Pauley, a veteran of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, is interested in seeing the Vietnam Women's Memorial. For some of the people named on the wall, "the nurses were probably the last people they talked to," Pauley said.
Other veterans, like Max Ornles, a former Marine, and Dryden, said they are concerned that their visit to the memorial could conjure too many memories of their time in Vietnam.
Ornles said he's seeking closure from the trip, but added: "I don't think we'll ever get it."
Bill Nichols, a veteran who served with the Army's 1st Infantry Division and the 984th Engineer Company, said he has seen a Vietnam moving wall, which is a traveling model of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on two occasions. If his reactions during those visits were any indication, his experience at the memorial in Washington will probably be "emotional."
Nichols described the memorial as "the end of the chapter of Vietnam," and said that when he sees the wall, "it will be kind of like closing the last page of a book."
The group's trip will also include visits to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and a trip to Arlington National Cemetery to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.