Remembering lost 'brothers'
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Jun 3, 2014, 13:24
BLAKE BELDEN/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT People searched The Wall That Heals for friends and loved ones who died while serving in Vietnam.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Fingertips slowly traced over the 58,000 names etched into the smooth black surface looking for the familiar names of friends and loved ones who gave their lives fighting in the Vietnam War.
It was The Wall That Heals, a traveling, half scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and it was situated in Colonial Heights for a period of four days beginning last Thursday.
For some, it was a chance to pay their respects to fallen relatives, and for others, it was an opportunity to say hello to old friends.
C.D. Jackson, a Vietnam veteran from Hopewell who served in 1969 at the age of 18, said that it was important that he show up to the replica on Thursday.
“I came to see my friends,” Jackson said.
Jackson said that he has been to the actual monument in Washington, D.C., and that he usually goes around 2:30 a.m. because that’s when his friend, Jimmy Harper, was killed in Vietnam.
“I called him J.C. He called me C.D.,” Jackson said revisiting vivid moments from long ago.
Although he served almost 50 years ago, Jackson said that the memories from the war remain fresh and will never fade.
“It’s going to be hard for me to leave today,” Jackson said with a solemn gaze as he peered from behind a set of thick glasses at the wall.
Lew Mills, a Vietnam veteran who served from 1969-1970, said that the wall is more than just a list of names, and that he can feel attachment to every single person on the monument.
“Everyone on the wall, to me, is a brother,” Mills said, with his hands stuffed into the pockets of a Prince George Royals windbreaker and a proud smile curving from under his veteran baseball cap.
Mills was 19 when he was enlisted, and although he has been to the actual monument, he said that he showed up to the wall on Thursday because “it was a good opportunity to provide more closure to my journey.”
From left, Major Marcus Smoot, C.D. Jackson and Lew Mills stand in front of the Wall That Heals in Colonial Heights.
There was an opening ceremony for the exhibit on Thursday morning.
Special guest speaker Paul Galanti, a retired U.S. Naval Commander, was stationed aboard the USS Hancock in 1964, where he piloted 97 combat missions in an A-4C Skyhawk before he was shot down and captured in Vietnam in 1966.
Galanti was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for almost seven years when he was eventually released 2,432 days later on Feb. 12, 1973.
Galanti said that the wall is very dear to him, containing the names of 137 soldiers who gave their lives fighting in Vietnam including two roommates from a naval academy and a high school roommate.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think of them and what they put up with, what they had to do to be called Americans. They paid the ultimate price,” Galanti said. “Nothing compares to losing your life for your country. There is no higher sacrifice one can make.”
Galanti recalled the words of a toast that had been tapped to him through a wall by another prisoner of war adjacent to him while he was in solitary confinement.
“I had just come back from a nasty, 10-day torture session. They threw me in this dank cell, foul smelling and just dark and miserable in January in North Vietnam, which is cold,” Galanti said before he recited the message that had been tapped through the wall to him, words that he will never forget:
“We toast our hearty comrades who have fallen from the sky, who are gently caught by God’s own hand to dwell with him on high, to reign among the soaring clouds they knew so well before, from victory roll to tail chase at heaven’s very door. And as we fly among them there, we sadly hear their plea ‘Take care my friend, watch your six and do one more roll for me.’”
Paul Galanti speaks at the opening ceremony of the Wall That Heals on Thursday.
Established through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, The Wall That Heals is a 250-foot replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and has traveled to more than 350 locations in the country.
The exhibit travels all the way across the contiguous 48 states, a tour that takes up more than 10 months in a year, said Bob Dobek, site manager for The Wall That Heals.
Dobek, a retired Army veteran of 23 years, has been travelling with the migrating monument since February of 2010 along with his wife, Brenda.
In fact, Brenda heard about the wall through Sirius Radio and convinced Bob to sign up to work it even though he was initially skeptical and didn’t want to be constantly reminded of the tragedy behind the wall.
“I’ve got my own buddies on that wall,” Bob said.
Hailing from Iowa, Bob said that he now feels compelled to continue traveling with the wall, and that even though “it’s a very emotional roller coaster type job,” there’s nothing he could think of that he would rather be doing.
The Wall That Heals has been around since Veterans Day of 1996, and is directly affiliated with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Mayor C. Scott Davis was present for the opening ceremony of the wall.
“The wall is a way to reflect, pay tribute and remember those who have fought and are fighting for freedom every day,” Davis said, mentioning that the replica gives an opportunity for those who cannot make it to Washington, D.C., to see the monument.
Eldon Burton showed up to the ceremony to speak on behalf of Sen. Mark Warner.
“To those who have served, those who will continue to serve, those who were disabled in the line of duty and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, a grateful commonwealth and nation owe an enormous amount of gratitude. Your patriotism during these challenging times exemplifies what is best about America,” Burton read aloud from a letter written by Warner.
The Wall was set up in the Southpark Mall parking lot and was open to the public from Thursday morning through Sunday evening until 6 p.m., when they held an official closing ceremony for the monument.