AVTT Traveling Wall Website, (Show-Me Hero Salute,) June 2013.
The Vietnam War is etched deeply in the memory of a generation that saw a nation divided and left painfully scarred with regret.
The history of the Vietnam War is tangled in murky politics and fiercely differing public opinions. A person can read about it and watch hours of war footage, but the true meaning of what did to the American societal landscape is hard to comprehend for someone who did not live through that era.
After attending The AVTT Traveling Wall opening event it became apparent that healing and closure may forever be intertwined with lingering pain and anger. The difference between the Vietnam War and other wars finally became clear. It was simply not a war waged solely on foreign soil.
The keynote speaker Joseph Frank eloquently phrased what could be observed by watching the veterans and visitors at The Wall.
“ It was a life-defining experience for every American who lived during that particular era and it continues to impact us all…we were unable to separate the politics from the people,” Frank said. “We must never allow America to become disconnected from her military and never again allow a wall to stand between citizens and those who wear the cloth of our nation.”
Men standing in memory with fingers pressed against a name carved in stone, or notes, cigarettes, and other items left at The Wall now take on a different meaning. As Frank explained, these offerings are direct communications between the living and the dead. They are a way to confront repressed feelings and a move to make peace with pain and guilt.
Thousands of items left at The Wall are collected and archived as part of history. Over the years, deeply personal letters left for a name on The Wall are increasingly revealing love, forgiveness, and hope.
Feelings from the visitors varied, but they all found the event emotionally moving and are happy for the chance to see The Wall.
Bill Boettner, Wildwood, is a veteran who worked in an operating room in an evacuation hospital. He had never visited The Wall before and came to hear his grandson play in the band during the opening ceremony.
“I’m so impressed by the Keynote Speaker Joseph Frank. He gave a great speech because he told the truth,” Boettner said. “That’s what I wanted to hear was the truth. It was an unpopular war and we weren’t treated that great when we got back.”
He appreciated the Mayor of Sunset Hills Bill Nolan’s honesty and believes what he said was beautiful and spoken from the heart. Though he did not go to, Nolan said he hopes the guy that took his place is out there in front of him and not listed on The Wall behind him.
“This was just a wonderful ceremony and I am so glad I came,” Boettner said.
Bud and Elaine Cartier, Kirkwood, have seen The Wall in Washington D.C a couple of times and try to see The Traveling Wall if it comes anywhere close.
They conveyed that seeing The Wall is very special. The Cartier’s were quick to point out his brother’s name on The Wall and also the name of a man that died alongside him listed a couple of spaces down. Vic Cartier, 19, and two other soldiers died when a landmine exploded while they carried large heavy bags of rice for local villagers.
A men’s group from The Church of the Advent in Crestwood decided to visit The Wall. One member conveyed he knew men listed on The Wall and spoke with emotion.
“It’s tough. You look at the Wall and think, but for the grace of God there go I ” He said.
Another member of the group believes that the veterans exposed to the chemical Agent Orange during the war should be listed on The Wall as well, even though many of them died after returning home. He had worked for the chemical company that manufactured Agent Orange and lost a good friend who ultimately died from the chemical.
Gloria Puricelli and her granddaughter Kristen Kelley, Ballwin, were visiting The Wall for the first time. They came to find the names of a close friend’s nephew and Puricelli’s grade school classmate.
Puricelli did not know if she would ever make it to Washington D.C., so she decided to come and see it while it was in town.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it really is extraordinary,” Puricelli said. “Seeing it here just brings home the sacrifice.”
“I think it’s wonderful. A lot of generations hear about it in history class, but don’t actually get to see it,” Kelley said. “I think it’s just a wonderful and breathtaking experience.”
Published: AVTT Traveling Wall Website, (Show-Me Hero Salute,) June 2013.