Vietnam tribute returning to area

PARKERSBURG – The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall will once again be on display in Parkersburg’s City Park over Labor Day weekend, Mayor Bob Newell said Wednesday.

“It was very well received by the community” when it appeared there in 2011, he said. “It was very well attended.”

Organizers estimated more than 7,000 people came to see the three-fifths-scale model of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., over the five days in September 2011 it was set up at the park. They attended despite weather conditions that included blistering heat one day and pouring rain on another.

“It was very impressive,” recalled Gary Welsh, manager of the traveling wall, a project of the Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard organization in Brevard County, Fla. On the last day, “you couldn’t see the wall through the umbrellas.”

The wall stands six feet tall in the center and is nearly 300 feet long from end to end. Like the actual memorial in the nation’s capital, it bears the names of more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers killed in the Vietnam war.

Welsh said it’s not uncommon for the wall to make multiple trips to the same destination.

“The response is so great, and a lot of times there’s always a percentage of the people, no matter how much you advertise it, that don’t get to see it,” he said.

Bringing the wall to town and displaying it is a community effort. Newell said the city will cover the initial $1,000 to secure its appearance and he expects donations from local businesses to cover the remaining $5,464.

“Area businesses were very generous last time to get that done,” the mayor said. “Not only did we raise the money, area businesses donated materials for the base” on which it stood.

Volunteers helped set up the memorial and took it down. In addition, local volunteers stood guard at the memorial overnight, said Gary Farris, director of the Veterans Museum of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

The museum and the Deerwalk Veterans Association, of which Farris is a member, set up in the park to provide refreshments.

“Twenty-four hours a day, we were there,” Farris said. “Anybody that needed a drink of water or cup of coffee – we even fed the guys at night.”

Farris said it was no surprise to him how many people came to see the wall in 2011.

“The people of this area are very patriotic,” he said. “They support veterans better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Newell said the city had opportunities to bring the wall back sooner, but he wanted to do it on Labor Day weekend again so it could be here longer.