Volunteers send Vietnam memorial off

PARKERSBURG – As they did when the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall arrived in the city a week ago, volunteers gathered in City Park Tuesday, this time to take the display down and send it on to its next stop.

“I just wanted to volunteer and help out,” said Spc. Phillip Hickman, with the West Virginia Army National Guard 1092nd Engineer Battalion. “We didn’t expect this many people. I figured it would just be a handful of us. … You’ve got military, you’ve got civilians helping.”

More than 30 people helped disassemble the wall Tuesday morning. They included veterans who served in the war whose more than 58,000 dead the monument replica honors, other veterans who wanted to honor their service and members of the Parkersburg Catholic and Williamstown High School football teams. The latter volunteers weren’t alive when the war ended in 1974 and soldiers returned to scorn from their fellow citizens.

“Hearing about how a lot of Vietnam veterans were disrespected when they came back, I think it’s great that we’re giving them tribute now,” said Williamstown senior Kade Kiselica.

Mike Francis, senior vice commandant for the Marine Corps League Detachment 1087 of Wood County, said he felt good about the entire time the wall was set up in the park, from Wednesday to Tuesday morning, but the participation of the youth was the most gratifying aspect to him.

“We’re extremely fortunate to live in an area like this,” he said, referring to the patriotism displayed by the volunteers, city officials and employees and residents in making the display possible.

Forty-five years after serving in the Army in Vietnam, Williamstown resident Wayne King felt a personal responsibility to help with the display. On Tuesday, he was sweeping mulch off the wall’s base as panels were removed.

“I’ve been here off and on all weekend,” King said. “I just need to do this. … I’ve got a lot of guys on this wall that I know.”

The more than 7,000 people estimated to have visited the wall over the last week consisted of a mix of veterans, friends and family of those who served and died and those with no direct connection to the war.

“You don’t have to be a Vietnam veteran to appreciate what they’ve done,” King said.

Some of those who worked with the wall during this, its second stop in Parkersburg, are already looking forward to its announced return in 2016.

“I’m extremely happy about it myself,” Francis said.

Greg Welsh, manager of the traveling memorial, said attendance this time exceeded the numbers over Labor Day weekend in 2011.

“It was just a fantastic event, a lot of people came out,” he said. “Couldn’t have asked for more.”

The wall will next set up in Ashburn, Ga., before moving on to Illinois, Texas and Louisiana, eventually wrapping up in its home state of Florida.