A special Christmas memorial built in Garyville

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2000

ANNA MONICA / L’Observateur / January 5, 2000

The atmosphere in the living room of the Terrio home in Garyville was warm and friendly. The Christmas decorations, some which were unique,added that special holiday touch. The conversation was neighborly, but theexpression and sentiment in Danny Terrio’s face as he spoke and the field in back of the house revealed a dramatic story Danny had held quietly in his memory and heart for a long time.

He told the story in the bonfire he built for Christmas Eve 1999.

About seven years ago, in an attempt to keep his young son, Donny, busy, Danny started making a bonfire to burn on Christmas Eve. There is plentyopen field in back of the home he shares with his wife Donna. The fieldbelongs to Vic Miano, who kindly allows it to be used.

Donna brings out pictures of former bonfires her Terrio men have put together, including the typical bonfire, a barn with a loft, the state Capitol, a spider about 40 feet across and a wrapped tepee which the neighborhood children painted, complete with totem poles.

This year, at first, Donny didn’t understand what his dad was trying to do.

But, as the Vietnam memorial began to unfold, 11-year-old Donny became fascinated and couldn’t wait to finish. The main structure was a carefullyconstructed replica of a hand grenade. The large soldier image is Danny,and the two headstones have the names of Danny’s buddies killed in action.

David Torres of Texas who had been on several missions with Danny was one of them. He had been a former Hell’s Angels biker member, but Dannyremembers him as one of the nicest people he had known. Zep was theother one. He had been in the process of getting his citizenship. He wasfrom the Midwest and was later made him a citizen anyhow.

The men were members of the U.S. Army 1st Aircav, Co. H, AirborneRangers. Often their duty was to scout and gather intelligence before therest of the ground troops went in. A treasured memento Danny has is hiscopy of the Presidential Unit Citation received by his company; one of only 10 given between 1969 and 1970. About 50 people in his unit received thisprestigious award.

Now, 30 years later, Danny Terrio took his son into the empty field to build a memorial and release the memories of his Vietnam experience. Hehad been thinking about it all year. Donna truly believes the bonfire waspart of the healing process her husband must go through because of his Vietnam memories, and she was very supportive of his effort.

Danny remembers others, some classmates from Garyville who served in Vietnam, including Robert Torres, Wayne Stein, Carl Vicknair, Ronnie Hymel, Kerry Hymel, Floyd Michel Jr. and Dana Radcliffe. From Reservethere was Bruce Blythe and Timothy Remondet.

Danny also reacts when he sees or reads stories about Vietnam.

“Sometimes,” he says, “you have to make jokes to keep from crying.”By now, the Vietnam memorial bonfire has burned to the ground and become another memory. Danny pulls out his wallet and shows a religiousobject he carried all through his Vietnam action and 30 years since. DaveHeltz had given it to him, and it has special meaning. So does his familyand the life he has now. This year, too, that bonfire was quite special.It had been 30 years.

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