The arrival of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall was historic event for the Santa Clarita Valley. For four days, the Westfield Valencia Town Center parking lot near Citrus Street was charged with memories, the memories of more than 58,000 fallen as thousands of veterans and members of the community visited the wall.
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The Wall brought together veterans from World War II, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and everything in between.
Community volunteers also came together for a continuous live reading of the 58,238 names on the wall. Readers took turns in 30-minute shifts, 24 hours a day while the Wall was in town.
With ceremonies every night, and volunteers on hand to help visitors etch the names of their loved ones, there were many ways to honor veterans and our military in general, and Vietnam veterans in particular.
Bill Reynolds, a member of the famous Charlie Company featured in the new book “The Boys of ’67,” spoke during the opening ceremony on Thursday.
To him, there is one word that best describes the experience of bringing the Wall to Santa Clarita: “powerful.”
“I think that’s how it affected all the Vietnam veterans,” he said.
Reynolds was also thankful that the Wall allowed people to reflect on the magnitude of the Vietnam War and the number of lives lost.
“My own family, some of whom have never visited the Wall in D.C., stood there and looked at the length of the Wall and all of their names,” he said, “and (they) were just mesmerized that so many of our young men could be lost in a horrific war that was greatly underappreciated by America at the time.”
During Sunday night’s ceremony, Gary Mitchell, district commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars listed some sobering statistics about those many names:
- There are three sets of fathers and sons on the Wall.
- More than 8,000 were 19 years old.
- More than 33,000, the largest single group of losses, were only 18 years old.
- There are 31 sets of brothers on the Wall.
- There are eight nurses on the Wall, who died while caring for the wounded and sick.
- Of the 244 Medals of Honor that were awarded during the conflict, there are 153 recipients on the Wall.
- Jan. 31, 1968 was the most costly day–245 were lost, an average of ten every hour.
- May 1968 was the most costly month, with a loss of 2,415 lives–an average of 77 fallen each day of the month.
On opening night, Mayor Bob Kellar called the event an “eye-opener” for young people.
Reynolds said he saw it as an opportunity to help people understand why the war was fought.
“I think it presented an opportunity for us Vietnam veterans to express our feelings about the war that we fought in,” he said, “and perhaps shed a little light on the reality of how that war ended and what it meant to freedom across the world.”
Carl Goldman, co-owner of KHTS AM-1220 that co-sponsored the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, said that one of the most important aspects of bringing the wall to Santa Clarita was healing for the Vietnam veterans in the community.
“I was blown away by the response that this community had to welcoming the wall in our valley and this truly became an important part of the healing process,” he said. “I’ve spoken to so Vietnam veterans who were incredibly thankful for bringing it here. Many had been to Washington, D.C. and couldn’t bring themselves to go to the wall while they were there.”
It was this community’s way of honoring soldiers who may have met derision instead of welcome when they returned home.
“Here is a way for us to repair that and make it right for them,” Goldman said.
KHTS co-owner Jeri Seratti-Goldman echoed the sentiment.
“It was most incredible thing, to watch the veterans visit the Wall who had never made it to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “They had lived with memories of the Vietnam War for so many years, and visiting the Wall allowed them the healing to continue.”
The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall may have moved on, but seven Purple Heart banners created by local artists are still hanging in the Westfield Mall. Based on Vietnam and military themes, these decorations are meant to honor veterans. For more information on where the banners are hanging, click here.
Ultimately, it was Mitchell who best summarized the impact of the Vietnam Wall’s visit, in the poem he read to audiences on Sunday evening.
I cry for the names now shown on the wall,
And for all of the memories they gave to us all.
I cry for the widows, who for them now long,
And for all of the children whose fathers are gone.
I cry for the mothers whose sons they did give,
And I cry for the ones who died so I live.
I cry for those who will never hold one dear,
I cry for those gone, but in our hearts are so near.
I cry for all those who were injured or maimed,
And yes, for us all – we’re no longer the same.
I cry from the nightmares, the cold sweats and shivers,
And from all the memories my mind still delivers.
I cry from the anguish that haunts my soul still,
And from all of my demons–these things I can’t kill.
I cry for all those that traveled so far,
And yes, for our childhood we lost in that war.
I cry for the heartache that never will heal,
And yes, we were children when those fears we did feel.
I cry for the faces I no longer can see,
I cry for them all–they could have been me.
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Source: Santa Clarita News