Volunteers drive success of memorial wall

PARKERSBURG – Local volunteers have continued to play an important role in the success of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall’s visit to City Park in Parkersburg.

The Wall, which contains the names of more than 58,000 service members lost between 1959-1974 during the Vietnam War, has been on display since Wednesday with an official opening ceremony on Thursday.

A three-fifths scale model of the memorial in Washington, D.C., it will remain on display through Monday evening before being packed up and moved its next location in Georgia on Tuesday morning.

Patsy Greiner is volunteer coordinator for the Wall program and president of the Ladies Auxiliary of VFW Post 8127 in Vienna.

Greiner said the volunteer response for the program has been “completely overwhelming.” While the two locator tents are manned from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, the Wall is open to visitors around the clock and volunteers are present at all times to watch over the Wall and assist visitors at any time.

“When people come to volunteer at the locator tents, they don’t want to go home,” Greiner said, adding she has worked to create four-hour shifts for the volunteers. “They want to work another hour or two or they will say ‘If somebody doesn’t show up, please call us,'” she said.

Greiner said arrangements have already been made for the Wall to return to Parkersburg in 2016 for the Labor Day weekend.

One of the volunteers working Saturday was Kyle O’Donnell, 15, a Boy Scout with Troop 20 at Wayside United Methodist Church in Vienna.

O’Donnell said the time he spent volunteering Saturday afternoon was his first visit to the Wall as he helped direct visitors to the Wall, to the locator tents and to other volunteers who might assist them. He said he was glad to be involved in the program.

“It’s amazing to see all of the people who died in the war, you know, how they fought for this country and what that means to us,” he said of the Wall. “I’ve seen some service members and they are very respectful, just trying to remember their friends who passed on before them,” he said.

Greg Smith, who has served as organizer for the Wall’s visit to Parkersburg, said about 5,000 people had visited the Wall as of Friday, including elementary school groups from six local schools. No numbers were yet available for Saturday.

Smith said an ecumenical worship service is planned for 4 p.m. today at the Wall at City Park. The service will include music by Victor Smith, Paul Wigal and the New Hope Baptist Choir. The main message will be presented by the Rev. Frank Miller, along with additional poetry readings and prayers.

A steady stream of visitors continued to brave Saturday afternoon’s sweltering temperatures to visit the Wall and to remember those who were lost.

“I think it’s great and we came basically for my husband,” Lower Salem resident Jo Weber said of the Wall and its visit to Parkersburg as she and her husband, Frank, visited City Park on Saturday afternoon. “He’s been talking about doing this for a long time,” she said.

“I don’t know,” a visibly emotional Frank Weber said when asked if he was glad he had come. “It brings back a lot of old memories. We were a bunch of kids, a bunch of kids who didn’t know any better.”

Ron Mercer, a former Mid-Ohio Valley resident now living in Zanesville, Ohio, said he came to Parkersburg on Saturday to visit the Wall. He previously visited the Wall when it stopped in Zanesville and has also visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., on several occasions.

“Some of my friends are on it, it’s a nice day so I came down to see my buddies,” he said Saturday.

Mercer served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army from April 1969-April 1970 and said he really appreciates the Traveling Wall program.

“I would like to see every large city bring it into their city park or some place where they could show the boys that gave their lives for our freedom,” he said.