PEORIA – Last weekend a replica of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall along with a mobile education center was on display at Lake Pleasant in an exhibit called “The Wall That Heals,” which was free to the public and open 24 hours a day. It brought visitors from near and far who were mourning their lost loved ones or simply there to honor American heroes for their ultimate sacrifice.
In recent years conversations about the other wall in our border state have been polarizing, and for many communities hurtful. But The Wall That Heals brought a sense of community with it, and for a few days people from all religions, backgrounds, ages and political parties were brought together by a wall instead of divided by one.
The traveling wall is a three-quarter scale replica of the actual memorial located in Washington, D.C., which sees millions of visitors each year. On March 16, hundreds of people gathered at Pleasant Harbor on a sunny, breezy day to watch a special Honoring Ceremony for the traveling exhibit, and for a chance to see the memorial for the first time.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (and replica) has the names of more than 58,000 men and women who died in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), which is the organization that built the memorial in 1982, wanted to give all veterans and their families, including those who can’t travel, an opportunity to see the memorial in their own communities.
VVMF debuted the replica in 1996 so everyone could see the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall, and it has been giving people around the country a chance to heal since.
“VVMF is pleased to bring The Wall That Heals mobile exhibit to Peoria to allow local veterans and their family members a chance to visit The Wall and honor and remember those who have served and sacrificed,” said Jim Knotts, president and CEO of VVMF.
People from all walks of life gathered at the lawn where the replica wall stood against the backdrop of the lake and the blooming Sonoran Desert. Patriot Riders arrived on motorcycles, snowbirds emptied out of rental cars, service members donned their dress uniforms, boy scouts piled in by the van full, and recreationists zoomed in on golf carts from their lake campsites all to pay homage to the memorial.
“We hope it provides an opportunity for healing and an educational experience for the whole community on the impact of the Vietnam War on America,” Knotts said.
The mobile, multimedia education center had information about: local war heroes; the making of the wall; the memorial’s artist, Maya Lin; a Memory Honor Roll that honors veterans who died after the conflict from war-related illnesses; and the Gold Star Bike, a custom Harley Davidson’s Motorcycle.
Directory books were available with names listed in alphabetical order to help visitors locate names and pencils with keepsake papers for rubbings. There is even an app available for download on your smart phone that can assist you in finding names on the wall.
Local Boy Scout Troop 747 was present to help assist people with locating names on the wall, because even though it is a replica the memorial is still very imposing in size and quite overwhelming when looking at all the names.
The replica is 375-feet-long and stands 7.5-feet-high at its tallest point which gives the illusion that wall is rising above you as you walk towards the apex of the chevron shape. The names are listed in order of date of casualty and alphabetically, with the first and last causalities side by side at the apex of the memorial.
In 2018, almost 400,000 people visited the The Wall That Heals traveling exhibit and it has been on display in almost 600 communities across the country since it was unveiled in the 90s.
For more information about the exhibit or schedule visit: thewallthatheals.org.