Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica set up at fairgrounds


BROWNSTOWN — The Wall That Heals has arrived and is open to the public through Sunday afternoon.

On Wednesday morning, a group of mostly local volunteers — including a half-dozen Vietnam War veterans — gathered at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Brownstown to help erect the traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., for public viewing.

Rob Chinn of Seymour is one of the many who showed up to help out.

“It’s a big honor to come out here and be able to set up the wall and give some respect for the Vietnam veterans,” Chinn said.

While not a veteran of the Vietnam War, he served for 27 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Tyler Goecker, also of Seymour, said he came to help out some family and friends, several of whom are Vietnam veterans.

“It’s the least we can do to help out and take a day off work and come out here and show some respect to those who lost their lives in Vietnam,” Goecker said. “We just want to show our gratitude to them.”

After giving instructions about erecting the mobile wall, site manager Rodney Gonsalves of Los Angeles, California, gave a brief history of the wall.

He said the idea for the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital came about in 1979 from Army infantryman Jan Scruggs, who served in Vietnam.

“What he wanted to do was honor the 58,281 service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Gonsalves said. “They were either killed in Vietnam or are missing in action.”

Scruggs formed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization established April 27, 1979.

“They had a competition to see who could make the best design, and in the course of one weekend at Andrews Air Force Base in an aircraft hangar, they had over 1,400 designs to be judged,” Gonsalves said.

On May 1, 1981, the jury unanimously selected a design for the wall put together by 21-year-old Yale University student Maya Ying Lin of Athens, Ohio.

Construction of the wall in Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was completed in November 1982, and it was dedicated on Nov. 12 of that year.

Because not everyone is able to go — or wants to go — to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund built the replica known as The Wall That Heals in the mid-1990s. The replica is taken to various sites across the country from March to November each year, Gonsalves said.

The wall spends about a week in each location, he said.

“… and we bring that experience and honor those who have needed it for so long,” Gonsalves said.

He said veterans weren’t thanked for their service after the Vietnam War like they are today.

“It was totally different,” he said. “When our service members came home, it was almost like they went to a country, fought a war and came back and fought another war because they were treated badly. They were spit on, assaulted and called names because the protesters didn’t like the fact that we were at war, but they took it out on the service members.

“Hate the war, but don’t hate the warriors because it wasn’t their fault,” he said. “They were the ones that volunteered and went. Some were drafted, but they still went anyway.”

Gary Fletcher of Crothersville was another local resident who showed up to help out Wednesday morning.

Fletcher, who is not a veteran but is a member of the auxiliary of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1083 in Crothersville, said he wanted to help his community and veterans.

“It’s a big deal,” he said.

Seymour resident Brycen Baugh said he came along to help his grandfather, Rick Roberts of Seymour.

Roberts is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and the wall is important to him, making it important to his grandsons, which included Baugh and Sam Chandler of Seymour, who also came along to help out.

Ron Dougherty, a Vietnam War veteran living in North Vernon, said the wall has special meaning to him.

“I have six comrades who are on the wall, and I’m here hoping to be put to work,” he said. “I’ve been to D.C. to see the wall about 15 to 20 times. I have seen some of the mobile walls probably 10 to 15 times.”

He said he goes any time he hears about one of the mobile walls being nearby, but this was the first time he has been able to help out.

“It’s going to be interesting after just listening to what has to be done,” Dougherty said.

Gonsalves said there are other replicas of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that tour the country, but they are privately owned.

At 10 a.m. today, an opening ceremony for the wall is planned. Gary Dyer of Seymour, who is a Vietnam War veteran, said he plans to speak during that ceremony.

Dyer said he has traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial and also visited the replica when it was displayed in Marion County several years ago.

On Tuesday, he helped escort The Wall That Heals from Tractor Supply Co. on Seymour’s east side and spent the afternoon helping with some of the preparations in advance of the wall being erected.

Dyer, who lost two men in his unit to an RPG and machine gun attack during the Tet offensive in January 1968 in Vietnam, said helping out with the wall is well worth it.

“If this don’t get you … ” he said.

The wall was scheduled to open at 2 p.m. Wednesday and remain open around the clock until 1:45 p.m. Sunday.

Gonsalves said the wall will be taken down after a quick closing ceremony, and volunteers will be needed to take it down at that time.

“It doesn’t take as long to take it down as it does to put up,” he said.

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