Vietnam memorial wall arrives in area

PARKERSBURG – “Lest We Forget.”

It is a saying displayed prominently throughout City Park late Tuesday afternoon and it was the focal point as the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall arrived at the park.

People gathered Tuesday at the entrance of City Park, many holding American flags, as the truck and trailer carrying the memorial arrived for its stay in Parkersburg.

The truck arrived followed by around 350 motorcycles of the Patriot Guard and others who escorted the Wall from the Fairplains exit along Interstate 77 all the way into the park.

The Traveling Wall, a 3/5 scale of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall monument in Washington, D.C., lists the names of the more than 58,000 servicemen who died in the war.

The last time the traveling memorial was in Parkersburg was Labor Day Weekend 2011.

“What a wonderful night to start our tribute to the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall,” said Greg Smith, chairman of the volunteer group organizing activities for the Wall’s display. “This is truly a sign of patriotism in this area and an honor to those who have served our country in the military, especially during the Vietnam War, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who did not come home.”

A moment of silence was held to honor those who did not return home from the war.

Parkersburg Mayor Robert Newell welcomed everyone who gathered at City Park for the arrival.

“When we did this a few years ago, I did not realize until it happened, the magnitude of what we were doing,” he said. “It was such an easy decision for us to get it back as soon as we could.”

Greg Welsh, Vietnam Traveling Wall manager, said he regularly uses the Wall’s visit to Parkersburg in 2011 as an example to other communities interested in hosting the memorial.

“I often use Parkersburg as an example, because I have people ask me what are they going to do if it rains,” he said. “For those of you who were here the last time, it started to rain on Saturday and stopped Monday night.”

So many people still came out to see the Wall that all anyone could see were the umbrellas in front of the memorial.

“They just kept coming,” Welsh said. “They went through puddles and muck.

“We put down mulch and they just kept coming.”

For many who served in Vietnam, they returned to a country that spit on them and many felt it was a long time before anyone recognized their service and the sacrifices made.

“As a Vietnam veteran, we did not get this 50 years ago, but we damn sure have it today,” Welsh said of the Wall and support people have been showing them.

Many veterans and their families came out to show their support and to remember.

“We like to honor all veterans, first of all,” said Garry Peck, of Parkersburg, who served in Vietnam 1969-70 with the 716th Military Police Battalion attached to the 82nd Airborne. “A lot of the troops had it a lot worse than we did.

“We want to honor those guys.”

Peck said it was important to remember the Vietnam War so we won’t repeat it, especially with continuing military action overseas.

“I hate to see anymore of our people die,” he said.

Gene Bates, of Parkersburg, who served in Vietnam with the 504th Military Police Battalion in 1969-71, was at the park the last time the Wall came. It was a time to be with people who served over in Vietnam.

He said all veterans should be honored.

“It is not just Vietnam, but all the veterans should be remembered,” Bates said.

Edith Davis, of Memphis, Tenn., was in Parkersburg visiting family. She has a brother, who served in the U.S. Army, listed on the memorial.

Her brother, Jerry Fields, was killed June 2, 1966, at 21 years old.

“It means a lot to me to be here,” she said.

She had seen the Wall when it was in Parkersburg the last time, when similar memorials were in Memphis and she has visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“I still want to come and see his name,” she said.

Davis believes that all veterans should be remembered, especially those who died while serving. She has family who served in both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam, some who did not make it home.

“I think they should all be remembered,” she said. “They gave their lives for our country, no matter what war they were in.”

Volunteers will begin putting the Wall together today, beginning about 8 a.m. at City Park. The Wall is expected to be assembled by noon or 1 p.m. today and open to visitors.

The Wall will be open for the rest of the day and throughout the day Thursday before the official opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. Thursday, which will include a performance by the United States Air Force Honor Guard and Drill Team.

Visitors can come to the memorial throughout the day on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. A special non-denominational ecumenical service will be help at 4 p.m. Sunday. The Wall will be in place throughout the day Monday and will be disassembled and loaded onto the truck at 8 a.m. Tuesday for the trip to its next stop in Ashborn, Ga.

Smith said there is a lot of patriotic pride in this area, especially for the men and women who have served this nation.

“Lest we forget,” he said. “That is the reason people are here and why the Wall is here.

“It is so we do not forget what took place in the history of our nation.”