The Wall that Heals: ‘It’s a moving experience,’ veteran says
The Daily News
September 25, 2009
By Jim Gaines, The Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky.
David Daugherty stooped next to The Wall that Heals on Thursday morning, searching for a name.
He found it: PFC John F. Allen, 11th Marines, killed March 19, 1969, near An Hoa. Daugherty, dressed in fatigues and holding a small American flag, pointed it out to Allen’s mother, Dorothy, and several other family members. They bent down to look together.
They all came to the opening ceremony for the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The traveling exhibit will be at the Aviation Heritage Park on Three Springs Road, open 24 hours a day, until 8 a.m. Monday. Volunteers will be available round the clock to help visitors find specific names among the more than 58,000 American soldiers who died in Vietnam.
Now pastor of Clear Fork Baptist Church, Daugherty said he knows his name could be on the wall, too – he’s glad it’s not, but knows how families that lost loved ones there must feel. He drove Allen to the Nashville airport in December 1968, and never saw him again.
“He was one of my best friends,” Daugherty said.
Daugherty, who served in the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam himself, said he’s been twice to the memorial in Washington.
“It’s a moving experience,” he said. “It’s something you’ll never forget if you’ve ever been there.”
“I’m glad to see that they’re bringing this around so that people don’t forget,” Daugherty said, looking around at the several hundred people assembled for the opening ceremony.
At the wall’s opening, Dan Cherry of Bowling Green – a retired Air Force brigadier general, who flew the Aviation Heritage Park’s first display in Vietnam – said many who served in the war came home unrecognized, and the memorial honors them, too. In an invocation, Pastor Rick Bard of Broadway United Methodist Church stressed themes of reconciliation and friendship.
“We thank you that we are alive to see a day when those who were once enemies can become friends,” he said.
Cherry introduced representatives of all five branches of the U.S. military, and Butler County resident Don Jenkins, winner of the Medal of Honor in Vietnam. The crowd stood to applaud him.
Hung Trinh represented Warren County’s Vietnamese immigrant community, many of whom arrived after the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975. In a statement translated and read by his son, he conveyed his “deepest respect and thanks” to the American soldiers who served in the Vietnam War. Trinh, a former officer in the South Vietnamese army, escaped from a “reeducation camp” and fled to the United States with his family in 1980, arriving after a harrowing 10-day voyage, he said.
“To those whose names appear on the wall, I say you are heroes in every sense of the word,” he said. The crowd also rose to applaud Trinh’s statement.
After the ceremony, people slowly drifted toward the wall, some looking for names, some just strolling down its length. Groups from several local schools filed past.
Bowling Green residents Emily Minton and Katelyn White, both 16-year-old juniors at Warren East High School, said they were both amazed to see the number of names on the 250-foot-long memorial. It brought home to them the cost of the war, Minton said; a war that American troops left 20 years before she and White were born.
Neither knew of any relatives whose names might be on the wall, they said. White said she thinks her great-uncle served in Vietnam, but she isn’t sure.
While the Vietnam War is an unfamiliar part of history for their generation, Minton said she expects to learn more about it on a personal level soon. She’s volunteering at the wall on Sunday, and looks forward to meeting Vietnam veterans and the families of those who died, and helping them search for names.