Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2001

Vietnam memorial’s visit takes on special meaning

September 27, 2001

When the De Soto Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6654 secured a visit from the Vietnam Moving Wall Memorial eight months ago, its members had no idea the weeklong stay would be so significant.

The so-called Moving Wall, a half-sized replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., will visit De Soto's Miller Park from Oct. 2 through Oct. 9. Like the original, its black slabs contain the names of the 58,191 Americans who died in the war from 1961 to 1975.

The visit comes as the country mourns the victims of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon near Washington and the World Trade Center in New York. The country's mood in the wake of the attacks makes the visit more significant, said VFW 6654 Post Commander Rocky Hughes.

"Right now, people are reaching out to fill that void," he said. "When you're honoring one group of heroes, you're receptive to paying respect to other heroes who sacrificed for their country."

Hughes served in Vietnam as a Marine sergeant and squad leader in 1970-71. The presence of the wall in De Soto will help make up for lack of recognition local veterans received when they returned from the war, he said.

"I think it does help," he said. "It's been four years in getting it. It was the Vietnam vets who did it. The VFW has a lot to do with healing. That helps."

The VFW is attempting to present the wall in such a way as to bring dignity and ceremony to the memorial.

"The first time I saw it, I was not very impressed," he said. "The second time I was very impressed.

"We're trying to bring enough ceremony and dignity to impress curiosity seekers those who didn't have anything to do with Vietnam."

The veterans did that by making the visit a community event, Hughes said.

"That's what we wanted from the beginning," he said. "We've partnered with the Johnson County Sheriff's Department, the city, the school district and the Chamber of Commerce.

"Community service classes from both Mill Valley and De Soto high schools are helping us."

Bands and choirs from a number of district schools will provide music at ceremonies. Students will serve as attendants and operate computers that will provide the locations of names on the wall.

Also, this fall, the district's history high school classes began a section on the Vietnam War.

Last week, members of Karen Wall's De Soto High School junior American history class researched the roots of America's involvement in Vietnam. As part of the assignment, class members assumed the role of Ho Chi Minh, the French, American presidents and other historical characters to present position papers.

The names on the wall and the presence of the Vietnam veterans will bring home the reality of what they have been studying, the students agreed.

"I think it will be an experience we will remember," said junior Jessi Van Roekel. "We can watch 'Forrest Gump' a thousand times, but this will help to make it real."

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