When volunteers were asked to describe their experience reading the names at the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, sponsored by Total Financial Solutions, one word kept coming up: “amazing.”
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More than 260 volunteers and local boy scouts from Troop 2222 signed up for 30 minute shifts 24 hours a day, so that the readings would never stop while the Wall was in Santa Clarita.
Arif Halaby, CEO of Total Financial Solutions that sponsored the reading of the names, said that “As far as we know it’s never been done this way before.”
It was a unique way to honor each of the 58,238 men and women whose names are recorded on the wall, and a way to thank the Vietnam veterans who made it home but may have never been honored or even welcomed.
“Every single one of them was amazed and really felt like there was a healing that took place,” Halaby said, “and to have a small part of that healing process for the men and women that served, it was a pretty cool thing.”
Mayor Bob Kellar, who is a Vietnam-era veteran himself, volunteered to read names on Friday.
“For me, that was something that I very much wanted to do and took a great deal of pride in being able to read names that were on the Wall,” he said. “…It brought back a lot of memories. At the same time, it felt good to be able to honor and recognize these members of the military that lost their lives fighting for our country and the freedom of our people.”
Kellar said that he especially noticed the appreciation of the Vietnam veterans, some of which visited the Wall every day while it was in town.
Rhonda Chobanian, development director for the Boys and Girls Club of the Santa Clarita Valley, wanted to read the names because she knew she may never have another opportunity.
Knowing that the late night shifts would be harder to fill, she signed up for two back-to-back shifts from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Friday night.
Even then, people were visiting the Wall to listen and reflect.
“I was actually very pleasantly surprised that there was many people there,” Chobanian said. “I think it may have been one of the most profound and moving elements of the entire thing. I was moved by how many people stopped and sat down and just listened and took in the gravity of every name that was read as truly representing a life.”
KHTS AM-1220’s own Connie Jones also participated in the readings on Saturday, and acknowledged the personal nature of the opportunity, both for herself and for the veterans who remember their fallen friends.
“When a Vietnam Vet places his hand on the wall he is actually going back in time,” she said. “He remembers the men he fought with, especially those who did not make it back and whose names are on the wall. I am of the same generation and reading the names was a very personal way for me to pay tribute. I am so thankful that Arif Halaby and Total Financial Solutions made it possible to have the names read live. I’m proud to have been a part of the event.”
Reading the names was also very personal for local boy scout from Troop 2222, Wade Hampton.
During his Saturday shift, he read the name of the uncle he never knew, Steven Aaron Hampton who died on Dec. 15, 1968.
Each reader received a Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall challenge coin from Total Financial Solutions, with a unique number registered to their name.
But one of those coins, #297, was not handed it out, Halaby said.
Instead it was sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. along with all the other non-perishable items that were left at the Wall.
Coin #297 is meant to honor all those who were prisoners of war or missing in action during the Vietnam War.
All the participants will also receive a special certificate to thank them for their part in honoring all those who fought.
“You could just see the genuine gratitude for it in their faces,” Chobanian said of the veterans who heard the names read, “that they were each getting what they were due, and some recognition and honor.”
The 264 volunteers who together read 58,238 names are listed below:
Gerardo San Jose
Rebecca (Becky) Thomas
Anna Marie Torelli
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Source: Santa Clarita News