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The wall that heals


Sun, Nov 5th, 2000
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By Sue EngenMonday, November 6, 2000

Editors note: The Moving Wall , a one-half size replica of the Washington D.C Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall has been traveling the country for the past 16 years The names of all the Americans who died in Vietnam and those who remain missing are inscribed in the Wall. Last May, one of the eight traveling Walls was in Lake City and Sue Engen, along with fellow members of the Preston VFW, traveled there to see it. It was a profound and moving experience for them all. Back at home Sue wrote of her own memories and emotions of that day, which the Journal is pleased to publish in observance of Veterans Day on November, 11.

The replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, stands solemnly in Patton Park, near downtown Lake City, site of this year's VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Loyalty Days Celebration. Approaching the "wall that heals" the magnitude of the loss of those who sacrificed their lives suddenly becomes very real to me. The names of the thousands of men and women who served and died are etched in white, crisp letters across the cool black panels of the wall. There are 58,220 names, a moving perspective of how many lives were lost. One of eight travelling replicas, the Wall stretches 250 feet in length, one-half the size of the one in Washington, D.C.

I am accompanied by other members of the VFW Post 6893, Preston: Neil Bremseth, Cliff Sackett and Les Hellickson. We step into a tent where eight computers are set up. Servicemen assist us in finding the names we wish to locate. While waiting in line, I am invited to find my names in a large book placed on the table. There are many ways to find someone in this book even if you do not have all the information.

I hand the information to one of the servicemen, who enters it into the computer. In a matter of seconds I am handed a printout and I notice that on top of each sheet are the words: "Etched in Stone" In the upper right hand corner is the panel number and line in which to find the name. The sheet provides all the pertinent data about the person whom we came to pay our respects to.

I start at one end of the wall, searching for the panel number I need. At first I try to hurry but as my eyes go from one name to the next I can't help but slow down. The sheer number of names overwhelms me and reading them I discover a new perspective of what this wall means to me. I find myself thinking of the probability that there are names on this wall with no one left to grieve for them. I lose myself briefly as sadness consumes me.

Its then I also realize that no one region of our country was spared the tragedy of losing someone in this war. I feel a chill. I shiver and goosebumps appear as tears well up in my eyes while the reality of it all hits me. I am jarred back to the present by a man and woman, perhaps a mother and father, kneeling in front of me saying a prayer. Then using the "Etched in Stone" printout and a pencil they make an etching of their loved one's engraved name. The woman then holds it to her heart as he holds onto her.

I find my first panel number 22E, Line 015. Steven Richard Miller. My "Etched in Stone" sheet tells me he was only 19, from Preston, MN. His Army tour date was 05/09/67; Casualty date 06/19/67. Small arms ground casualty, Binh Dinh, South Vietnam. One month and ten days in country.

I move on to panel number 22W, Line 024, Sgt. David George Michel. Harmony, MN. Sgt. Michel had completed one year in the Army. Tour date 11/06/68; Casualty date 06/11/69. Hostile ground casualty, Quang Nam, South Vietnam. Seven months and five days in country.

The third "Etched in Stone" printout I have directs me to Panel 31E, Line 041. PFC Thelmer Arthur Rudlong, 20, Spring Valley, MN. PFC Rudlong had completed one year in the Army. Tour date 10/04/67; Casualty date 12/05/67. Casualty type; Hostile, died missing but recovered. Explosive device, ground casualty, Quang Ngai, South Vietnam. Two months and one day in country.

I find my last name on Panel 34E, Line 047. PFC Roger Lee Batt, 19, Rochelle, Illinois, formerly of the Chatfield area. The printout tells me he was in the Army. Tour date 11/28/67; Casualty date 01/14/68. Hostile ground casualty, Long An, South Vietnam. One month and 17 days in country.

Two of us here today had an extra special interest in these last two soldiers. Cliff Sackett and I knew both PFC Batt and Rudlong. All of us were close in age and had attended school together in Chatfield.

During the time of the Vietnam War, I recall how we thought that we would never have to worry too much about it. In our safe, small town of Chatfield it seemed such a remote possibility of having someone wounded or killed in this war. Until one day in October 1967 and again in November 1967, the war hit home. Now we too felt the tragedy of this war. With the loss of these two hometown men and the other two area men we saw first hand how the war affected us, no matter how protected we felt.

I am captured by the sacrifices that not only these four soldiers made, but of all the men and women who died or were POW/MIA. As of May 26, 2000, 2,022 POW/MIA's are still unaccounted for.

Remembering the ultimate price paid by all these servicemen and women, I stand contemplating, while still more visitors continue to file past me. Some stand silently in front of their name in remembrance. Others are kneeling in prayer and touching the name engraved in the black wall. Cool to the touch, we run our fingers across a name as we recognize the laying down of one's life is the highest price anyone can pay for the love of their country and its freedoms.

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The "Wall that Heals" compels those who visit to release the feelings kept inside for so long. Near a panel where their son's name is printed, a couple place their hands on his name as if they were cradling him. They begin to weep as they hold each other. I hear some Vietnam veterans tell of their need to come here today, to see the wall, to pay tribute to their comrades and to start their own healing . I hear others tell their stories to the names on the wall or to anyone who might be close enough to listen. Many have kept their feelings inside, waiting over thirty years to finally release them.

Young soldiers, many the ages of those fallen, stand guard. Silent sentinels standing at attention, their eyes never wavering from the "wall". They represent the heroes. At the changing of the guard, I watch as the soldier pivots and then at attention salutes his commanding officer -- the Wall. As he marches away, the flags dance quietly in the breeze, and the trees appear to stand taller with respect and pride in being a part of the ceremony.

The Wall is lit around the clock and as the sun sets and the evening turns to night other Vietnam veterans come to pay their respects. It is their chance to be alone with their feelings. It is also their chance to look up the name of a buddy, and remember the promises made to each other or to tell how the wishes of a dying soldier were carried out. It is a time to reflect and pause.

Exhibit trailers are parked along the side of Patton Park containing memorabilia and momentos that people have left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. There are flags, fatigues, helmets and combat boots, dress uniforms, dog tags and wedding bands. There are journals and letters to and from loved ones who were left behind. A baby's bib that reads "I love my Daddy" is displayed next to a letter written from the son he never knew.

The letter reads:

John E. Little; April 6, 1966,

Although I never met you, I think of you almost every day. I'm glad you became my Dad.
Your son, Chr

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