HAWARDEN, Iowa | Steven Hendricks sank four old tires into his family's acreage on Hawarden's south side 45 years ago. His mother, Marlys Hendricks, says he did it so the family would remember him as he served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
Steven left Hawarden not long after putting those tires in place. And never set foot on the acreage again.
U.S. Army Spec. 4 Steven Wayne Hendricks was killed in South Vietnam on May 26, 1971, when a land mine detonated beneath his armored personnel carrier. He was 20.
One of two Hawarden natives killed in Vietnam (Larry Scott was the other), Steven Hendricks' name appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, one of more than 58,000 names that memorialize lives lost. His name also appears on The Moving Wall, a mobile structure that replicates the Washington, D.C., monument.
After four years of working to bring The Moving Wall to this Sioux County community, the Sons of American Legion Post 254, will realize the wall's presence in town. The structure will be erected near the Hawarden Pavilion Thursday afternoon. It will remain in place through Monday morning. A welcoming ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
"I've seen the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., twice," says Marlys Hendricks, 84. "I can walk right to his name."
Marlys Hendricks offers Steven's U.S. Army uniform as well as photos and possessions of his for display at The Moving Wall. She's hopeful hundreds of area residents see the structure. She plans to attend the welcoming ceremony.
While it's been 44 years since her son's death, vivid memories remain. Marlys Hendricks remembers how son Stanton Hendricks, age 11 at the time, told her that the Rev. Herbert Young, of Associated Church of Hawarden, was at the door with his wife, Laura Young.
"I thought Pastor Young wanted to know if we'd heard from Steven," she says. "And then Stanton said there was a military man with the Youngs, standing at the door."
Marlys called to her husband, Mose Hendricks, who sat in the living room. Mose Hendricks, who had five brothers serve in the U.S. Navy, said, "Oh, no!" upon seeing a soldier at the Rev. Young's side.
"Mom collapsed on the floor," Stanton Hendricks remembers.
"We sat on the couch and the soldier knelt at our side," Marlys Hendricks recalls. "He told us exactly how Steven died."
Steven Hendricks, the soldier said, volunteered to drive an armored personnel carrier on the morning of May 26, 1971. The vehicle struck a land mine during combat operations, killing Hendricks and injuring the other occupants.
The funeral took place on June 5, 1971. He was buried with full military honors at Grace Hill Cemetery at Hawarden. His father, who died in 2006, was buried at his side.
"I go up for a little visit at the cemetery often," Marlys Hendricks says. "I always keep something on the grave."
Her jewelry box contains a cross Steven wore at the time of his death. She also has his dog tags and a peace necklace he wore. She kept every letter he wrote home during his 10-month tour in Vietnam. Those letters, and those she wrote to Steven some six days per week, are numbered in chronological order.
Steven's last letter was dated May 25, 1971, less than 24 hours before his death. He wrote about driving the personnel carrier and mentioned rumors about cutbacks in replacement troops; a development, he feared, could prolong his tour of duty.
"All that's on my mind lately is getting home," he wrote.
"It's tough on a family," Marlys reflects, examining his birthday and its corresponding draft lottery number, No. 9, in a yellowed newspaper clipping. "It was so tough on his young friends. I felt as sorry for his friends as I did us."
Marlys included a tiny piece of carpet in the final package she sent overseas, a box of fudge. She and Mose had carpeted Steven's room; they wanted him to know it was ready for his return.
"I think he might have been a mechanic," she says of her oldest son.
"He loved tinkering and working on cars," says Stanton Hendricks, the third of three Hendricks sons to serve in the military. Middle son Stuart Hendricks served with the U.S. Navy. Stanton, a member of the U.S. Army Reserves for eight years, is an active member of the local Legion.
He folded a U.S. flag on Tuesday at the military funeral of Gene Younie, a World War II veteran from Hawarden.
"I remember Mom getting Steve's flag," he says, noting how the memory rarely strays, a memory that keeps him involved with American Legion Post 254.
Of the four tires young Steven sank in the soil near the edge of the family's acreage, one remains, weathered and worn, mere feet from the driveway. Still standing, after 45 years.
Marlys Hendricks points at the tire and mentions Steven's plan, how he put those tires in place so people would remember him while he was gone. She manages a slight smile.
"It's the only one left," she says.