PARKERSBURG – The placement of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall in City Park Wednesday stirred up a variety of emotions for Vienna resident Donald Cleland.
“There’s 12 guys on that wall that I knew and served with,” said Cleland, who served in the Air Force during the war. “It brings back a lot of memories, stuff that I don’t like to talk about. There’s some stuff I did over there that I’m not proud of, but it had to be done.”
Cleland Wednesday morning was among more than 70 volunteers who assembled the wall, a three-fifths scale model of the Washington, D.C., memorial listing the names of soldiers killed in action from 1959 to 1974 during the Vietnam War. A project of the Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard organization in Brevard County, Fla., it will be on display until early Tuesday morning.
Greg Welsh, manager of the traveling wall, said he couldn’t be happier with the volunteers who got the wall up and ready for display in about three-and-a-half hours.
“It was a very good turnout – one for the record books,” he said. “We would like to see that everywhere.”
Seeing members of the West Virginia Army National Guard 1092nd Engineer Battalion; the Parkersburg, Parkersburg South, Parkersburg Catholic and Williamstown High School football teams; and local veterans did Cleland’s heart good.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” he said. “It chokes me up to have people thank you, finally.”
Sgt. 1st Class Darin Shrewsberry, with the 1092nd, said the Vietnam War is an important part of the history of the country and his family.
“My dad and four of my uncles served in Vietnam. So it’s an honor to be able to come out and help,” he said.
Parkersburg High School junior Jesse McGrew also had a family connection.
“My grandfather served (in Vietnam), and I felt like I should have been here in honor and respect for him,” he said.
For Parkersburg Catholic junior Jake Boice, carrying the segments of the wall and sliding them into place with others was a way to celebrate what the armed forces have done for the nation.
“I think that it’s just a small way for us to honor those who gave their lives, who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
To some, the thought of that sacrifice still hurts, even after half a century.
Asked what brought him to the park Wednesday, Mims, Fla., resident Glen Bowser held up a pencil rubbing of one of the 58,227 names on the wall.
“Robert J. Jindra,” he said. “Last time I saw him, he told me he’d been drafted and was being called up. I said to him, ‘Good luck, and be careful.’ And now his name’s on this wall.”
Bowser is a Vienna native who spends the summer at Mountwood Park. He got to know Jindra when he lived in Mentor, Ohio.
“It’s upsetting, especially to see all these names, and it just didn’t do any good,” Bowser said.
Jackson County resident Tara Eash didn’t realize the wall was being displayed when she and her son, Elijah, went for a walk in the park after some appointments in Parkersburg Wednesday. But she said she could feel the weight of those names as they walked along the wall.
“You just don’t realize the enormity of the loss until you see it represented,” Eash said.
Williamstown resident Gary Somerville, an Army veteran, stopped by the park Wednesday and plans to come back with his grandson today.
“It brings back a lot of memories since I was over there,” he said. Visiting the actual wall or this one is “a healing process for a lot of people.”
Rick Stanley, a volunteer helping people locate names on the wall, works with veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam, in his job as a counselor for the Counseling and Wellness Center in Parkersburg. He agreed with Somerville’s assessment, referencing the traveling monument’s description as “the Wall That Heals.”
“(Some veterans) didn’t get to say goodbye during wartime,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to do that if they choose to.”
Volunteers will be at the park from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. today through Monday to assist visitors in locating names. The wall will be guarded around the clock by volunteers.
The official opening ceremony is slated for 6 p.m. today and will feature a performance by the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and Drill Team.