WASHINGTON CITY — In a short but solemn ceremony Thursday morning, the Wall That Heals, a traveling half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. was officially opened to the public.
The arrival of the wall in Southern Utah was sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America Southern Utah Chapter 961 and Zion Harley Davidson. It will be available for public viewing at Zion Harley Davidson, 2345 N. Coral Canyon Blvd. in Washington City 24 hours a day starting Thursday and ending Sunday at noon.
Thursday’s ceremony included the posting of the colors, a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, an opening prayer, the placing of a memorial wreath and the playing of taps. But perhaps most importantly, the ceremony served to dedicate the space where the wall is placed as hallowed ground.
“This is sacred ground now,” said Bruce Raftery, a Vietnam veteran who served two tours. Raftery encouraged all those who visit the wall to treat it as sacred and give it the respect it deserves.
The wall arrived at Zion Harley Davidson Wednesday after being escorted from Cedar City and through the communities of Toquerville, LaVerkin, Hurricane and the Coral Canyon area of Washington City by members of the Patriot Guard Riders and Dixie 4 Wheel Drive.
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Video courtesy of Taralin Thompson
Several veterans and supporters gathered at Zion Harley to watch as the procession arrived. Among them was Linda Mustion of Burbank, California, who has seen a version of the traveling wall 31 times. Mustion often travels great distances from her home, sleeping in the back of her truck to see the wall, she said.
The official Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington contains over 58,000 names of American soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.
The scale replica, though half-sized, still contains all of the names. For Mustion that means she can see the names of two of her classmates from the 1967 class of Burbank High School, she said.
The traveling wall creates an opportunity for Vietnam veterans to find some peace and healing as they try to come to terms with the lives that were lost in the Vietnam War, Craig Dickason, vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Southern Utah Chapter 961, said.
“It’s a very sacred area for people to try to come to terms with people that are on the wall,” Dickason said. “We have quite a few guys in our chapter that still have terms that won’t go towards the wall … they’re still having a hard time to come to terms with some of their friends that are on the wall.”
Raftery said that many Vietnam veterans are still seeking closure, especially as to why their friends’ names are on the wall when they survived. Finding that closure is an ongoing thing, but with each time they are able to visit the wall, some of the holes get filled in.
“Sometime today or tomorrow I’ll walk right up to a panel that I know, because my friends are on there, my men that died, (that) saved my fanny,” Raftery said, “and I will give them a hand salute because I owe them at least that for my life.”
For some, the wall often acts as a link to past generations. The Wall That Heals was last in Southern Utah in 2015, and during that time Dickason met a father and daughter. The girl was about 7 years old, Dickason said, and she had been brought by her father to see her grandfather’s name on the wall.
“That’s the only way she is going to remember her grandfather,” Dickason said.
Dickason said that because so many veterans or their family members will never get the opportunity to travel to the nation’s capital to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it is very important to bring the traveling wall to a place where so many people can access it.
In 2015, approximately 10,000 people came to see the wall while it was on display, Raftery said, and they hope that many more, particularly those from the veteran community that haven’t had the opportunity, will come.
“There’s a spirit that’s here and you don’t have to be a veteran to feel it, you just have to be an American,” Raftery said.
The wall is on display 24 hours a day for those people who wish to visit in a more quiet and private time. The parking lot lights will be on, and there will be a guard on duty.
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