VINTON–The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall visited the Veterans Medical Center in Salem last week as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The display is a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial which stands in Washington, D.C., and is also called “The Wall That Heals.”
The traveling wall was designed to visit communities throughout the nation to aid in the healing process for veterans who were not generally welcomed back with open arms after their deployments in Southeast Asia between November 1955 and May 1975.
It is about 250 feet in length, in a chevron (V) shape, made of powder-coated aluminum. The wall is made up of 24 panels with the names engraved on the wall listed by day of casualty. Deaths from the Vietnam conflict totaled 58,307; 1627 soldiers remain Missing in Action.
The Wall arrived at the Salem VA on September 16, escorted by the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club, and remained on exhibit until September 20.
An opening ceremony was held on the evening of September 16 with many local dignitaries on hand, representing Vinton, the cities of Roanoke and Salem, and Roanoke County. Those localities along with the Stonewall Jackson Chapter of the Association of the US Army (AUSA) have scheduled many local events in the past two years to remember those who served during the Vietnam era.
Colonel John Miller hosted the opening ceremony at the VA Medical Center Auditorium, where cadets from the William Byrd High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps ushered in the guests, including many war vets. The cadets were accompanied by their instructors, Colonel Jay Thompson and Master Sergeant Allen Culbreth. Deedie Kagey of Bonsack sang the National Anthem after a prelude by the Roanoke Valley Community Band.
Botetourt resident Adrian Cronauer, who is recognized for his “Good Morning, Vietnam” connections and Brigadier General Dr. John Rose from the Office of the Secretary of Defense spoke to the crowd about the realities of the war in Vietnam and the need for the healing wall. Both spoke from personal experience from their time in Vietnam.
Rose said that soldiers returning from duty in Vietnam were not “proudly hailed” but instead were advised to change from their uniforms before being seen in public in the United States. He told the crowd that the purpose of the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the war is to “remember, recognize, honor, and thank the veterans and their families for their service, duty, and sacrifice” in what is remembered as one of the most unpopular and unsupported wars in the history of our country.
“Soldiers did not come home to a grateful nation; families of soldier were not supported by their communities,” said Rose. “Wounds were theirs alone to live with. There was no PTSD diagnosed back then. There was a true cost of war in the lives of real people.”
Seventy-five thousand troops returned home disabled; of the 7,484 females who served in Vietnam—most as nurses, not in combat–eight died.
“We have not forgotten; we will never forget,” said Rose.
Representatives from the participating local governments including Vinton Mayor Brad Grose and Jason Peters of Vinton, Chairman of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, distributed commemorative lapel pins to veterans in the audience, thanking each one for their service. Pins were also given to the William Byrd JROTC cadets who assisted with the guests.
Following the ceremony, the crowd gathered at the wall for the laying of wreaths. Mayor Grose assisted by Karl Brockenbrogh from the U.S. Coast Guard placed a wreath along with Supervisor Peters, assisted by David Fast from the U.S. Navy. TAPS was played after the wreaths were in place.
In May 2012, President Obama issued a proclamation paying tribute to the three million servicemen and women who bravely served in Vietnam. He vowed to partner with “local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to commemorate the anniversary from May 28, 2012, through November 11, 2025.” Vinton chose to be one of those participating communities.
Sponsors for the Vietnam Traveling Wall exhibit, in addition to the participating governments and AUSA, included the Salem VA Credit Union, Carilion Clinic, the Roanoke Valley Disabled American Veterans, the Blue Ridge Veterans Celebration, Vietnam Veterans of America Roanoke Valley Chapter 81, W.S. Connelly & Co., Blue Ridge Beverage, Southwest Virginia Chapter Military Officers Association of America, Evergreen Memorial Trust, Roanoke Elks Lodge 197, Kroger, Hampton Inn Salem, and Coca Cola.
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