By Lori Leath Smith
One usually travels TO a wall, but this one’s coming to us! The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall© is arriving in our area to be showcased at Gulf Cemetery’s Memorial Day service, fitting for this year’s theme “United in Sacrifice, Honored in Remembrance.”
To be displayed throughout Memorial Day Weekend at the Chapel at Crosspoint in Santa Rosa Beach, VFW Post 4437 Riders will be paying their tribute to the more than 58,300 names enshrined on it by escorting the wall through Freeport from McDonald’s in Defuniak Springs on its way to the Chapel.
The Wall is fully sponsored by the Gulf Cemetery Association and hosted by the Chapel at Crosspoint from Thursday, May 27 through Memorial Day Monday, May 31.
Rev. Dr. H. L. “Scooter” Ward, Jr., Associate Pastor and Minister of Music for Community Church of Santa Rosa Beach, is an Air Force veteran, on the Gulf Cemetery Board and president of the South Walton Ministry Association (SWMA). Rev. Ward has two uncles with purple hearts and says this year, after being unable to have a ceremony last year, wanted to do something special for the Memorial Day ceremony. “I heard about the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall© and we have three military veterans on the board. So, through the SWMA in partnership with the Chapel at Crosspoint and Gulf Cemetery Association, as a team effort, we made it happen. A formation of Huey’s, the Patriot Guard and VFW riders, sheriffs and fire fighters joining the ceremony will make it really special.” Approximately 150 veterans are interred in the cemetery and will be honored in the service that will include a keynote speech by Retired Air Force General, Philip Breedlove. “One of goals is to teach the next generation the sacrifice our veterans and those who fought have made. We encourage parents to bring their kids and, really, the whole family to the event.”
Designed to travel to other communities throughout the U.S, the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall© is actually a 3/5 scale of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. It stands six feet tall at the center and covers almost 300 feet from end to end. It’s specifically dedicated to those veterans in the U.S. military who served in that designated war zone and stands as a reminder of the great sacrifices made during the Vietnam War. Its purpose is to help heal and rekindle friendships and allow people the opportunity to visit loved ones in their hometown who otherwise might be unable to make the trip to Washington. The traveling memorial further brings past and present military members and civilians of all ages together to view the names of lost family members and fallen companions allowing them to exist once more among family and friends in familiar surroundings. Since the Vietnam War was an unpopular conflict during the 1960s and early 1970s, it was difficult for many post-war veterans to easily transition back into society after returning from overseas. By bringing the wall to them in familiar surroundings, they find the strength and courage to face the wall within their own communities, allowing a healing process.
“The memorial came to be as a vision of the Vietnam Veterans of America,” says Doc Russo, a Navy veteran who travels with the wall. “The design was the winner of a design competition that had over 1,400 entries and, in 1982, it was unveiled in Washington D.C. To this day, it is the most visited national monument in the country and is still privately owned by the Vietnam Veterans of America,” he says.
A hospital corpsman, Doc was injured while in the service. He feels honored to be the person to take the Vietnam Traveling Wall around the country. “I have a cousin on 35E, Line 51, and I told his mother years ago, that as long as I am able, he and the other more than 58,000 soldiers would never be forgotten.” Doc says for as long as he has been working with the wall, he’s never seen anyone who did not appreciate it and what the wall stands for.
Rev. Ward says he needs adult volunteer wall monitors for four-hour shifts throughout the weekend. If you can help, visit gulfcemetery.org.
The historic, 106-year-old Gulf Cemetery will host this annual Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, May 31 at 10 a.m. at 1466 S. County Hwy. 393 in Santa Rosa Beach. The Memorial Wall should be set up by 4 p.m. on Thursday at the Chapel at Crosspoint, 1477 S. Co. Hwy 393, Santa Rosa Beach, open to the public 24/7 throughout the weekend except Sunday morning, and disassembled and depart on Tuesday, June 1.