The American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Memorial Wall opened Thursday evening, as hundreds of visitors packed the Westfield Valencia Town Center parking lot. The chairs set up weren’t enough to hold the people gathered to pay their respects to fallen soldiers and to hear from local officials.
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After a flyover from the Condor Squadron, the ceremony opened with the pledge of allegiance led by Mayor Bob Kellar and the national anthem.
Danielle Williams, a 12-year-old Santa Clarita Christian School student, was selected to sing “America the Beautiful”
Fred Arnold of American Family Funding emceed the event, reminding the audience that the arrival of the Wall was a time to remember the sacrifices made by all of our servicemen and women.
“Since 9/11, we’ve lost 11 soldiers of our great city,” he said, inviting the parents of these soldiers to stand.
These 11 fallen soldiers are not alone. Fourteen reserved chairs near the stage were left empty in honor of the 14 Santa Clarita Valley residents who lost their lives during the Vietnam War.
- Elmer Robert Lee Ables, Jr.
- John William Borders, Jr.
- Michael Andrew Fay
- Terry Dale Gemas
- Joseph Samuel Godwin
- Henry Chester Klinger
- Gary Robert Monteleone
- Frank Dennis Ortega
- Stephen Russell Peterson
- Carl Leonard Radtke
- David Lee Reeder
- Charles Clarence Smith, Jr.
- Bruce Wayne St Louis
- Gary Allen Turnbull
Arnold said that bringing the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall to Santa Clarita was the culmination of a year-
long dream for Chuck Morris, Korean War veteran and commander of the Friendly Valley Veterans Club.
“(But) when you look at that wall,” he said, “there’s 58,230 dreams not fulfilled.”
State Assemblyman Scott Wilk also spoke, and charged the audience to treat today’s returning veterans differently than Vietnam veterans were treated.
“Vietnam was not treated kindly,” Wilk said. “I hope we don’t make the same mistake with Iraq veterans.”
“Veterans have a strong presence in the Santa Clarita Valley,” he said.
Several of those veterans, including Kellar, shared their experiences in Vietnam.
Kellar recalled his training as a paratrooper and befriending a fellow soldier who had served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Bill Reynolds, a member of the famous Charlie Company featured in the new book “The Boys of ’67,” teared up as he described firefights and a fateful June 19, 1967 battle that took 47 lives.
“We never forget our fallen,” Reynolds said, “and to honor our June 19th heroes, I would like to read those 47 names.”
Of the men that fell that day, most were in their 20s, but a few were as young as 19 and one was 44.
After the presentation of an award by Wilk to Morris, for his work to bring the Wall to Santa Clarita, Bob Danis played taps to end the ceremony.
People lingered long afterwards, to talk, reminisce and etch the names of loved ones.
The Wall brought together veterans from WWII, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and everywhere in between.
Martie Shaw, one visitor to the Wall, came to find the name of Lt. Cmdr. Larry James Stevens, a 27-year-old Navy pilot who was shot down over Laos on Valentine’s Day 1969.
Shaw never met Stevens, but when she was a student at Canoga High School, she and her friends committed to wearing bracelets bearing the names of Vietnam prisoners of war.
Stevens had only been married 10 months when he went to war, one story of some many represented on the Wall.
Vietnam Army veteran Jerry Schlund said that seeing the Wall traveling around the country is a welcome change.
“I’m glad to see (that things are) a lot different than they used to be,” he said. “It gives me a better feeling of my efforts over there.”
American Veterans Traveling Tribute CEO Kevin Weatherly, who is an Iraqi Freedom veteran himself, said that the whole experience is humbling and emotional, “to travel the country and do something that touches me, and touches people.”
Ceremonies for Friday and Saturday begin at 6 p.m. Sunday’s ceremony begins at 5 p.m. The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall will be open 24 hours a day while it is in town. The wall is located in the parking lot at the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall at the corner of Magic Mountain Parkway at Citrus (on the Sears side of the mall). For more information, click here.
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Source: Santa Clarita News