40 years ago, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was created with a promise to never forget. On March 24-27, area residents will have the opportunity to remember with a replica of that memorial in our community.
- By Wendy Sullivan
All photos from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) website
Postwar resources for healing were limited, and many veterans developed a distrust of the bureaucracy that ripped them from their adolescence and sent them to war. They also experienced rejections from traditional veterans’ organizations. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder had not yet been identified, nor was mental health treatment readily available. The effects of exposure to Agent Orange remained hidden in their bodies, waiting to wreak havoc as they aged.
Fast-forward to present day. Many are no longer with us, having died from exposure to Agent Orange, PTSD/suicide, cancer, diabetes, and other causes related to their service. Those who have survived are in their 70s or 80s. Some have not shared their memories or experiences with family and friends, and many have been unable to travel to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., or found the thought of visiting it too emotionally painful.
“The Wall That Heals,” a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., offers the opportunity for veterans, their families, and the community to acknowledge the sacrifices of those who served there and continue their healing process. And Bay St. Louis will have the honor of hosting the Memorial replica on March 24-27.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) website reports, “Bringing ‘The Wall’ home to communities throughout our country allows the souls enshrined on the Memorial to exist once more among family and friends in the peace and comfort of familiar surroundings.”
The traveling exhibit is a ¾-scale replica of the memorial in the nation’s capital. It’s 375 feet long and eight feet tall at its apex.
Cindy Schoonmaker, a proud lifetime member of the VFW Post 3253 Auxiliary, has been actively involved in Hancock County’s “The Wall That Heals” committee. Cindy had brothers who served in several combat conflicts including Vietnam and the Korean War and represents them in the Legion Auxiliary.
Schoonmaker said, “I’m particularly proud of the educational portion of the Wall display so this generation understands what Vietnam Veterans went through.”
Bay St. Louis is the exhibit’s first stop on its 2022 traveling tour. “The Wall That Heals” will travel via motorcade on Highway 90 from Pascagoula to Bay St. Louis on March 22. Meeting the 80-foot-long trailer in Pascagoula at noon, the 100-vehicle escort will include members of the Vietnam Veterans’ Rolling Thunder motorcycle squad, police, municipalities, and others.
Arriving at the Bay Waveland High School Sports Complex about 1:15, the Wall will be greeted by the school band and dignitaries.
The next day, Wednesday, March 23, will be devoted to setting up the exhibit and information tent with the assistance of the school’s sports teams and ROTC. It takes four hours to set up, with a soft opening at 3pm. This is the first stop for this new version of “The Wall That Heals,” so it will also be the inaugural unveiling of the display.
The Bay Waveland and Hancock High Schools’ ROTCs will also be assisting the Hancock Sheriff’s Department standing watch over the memorial 24 hours a day.
Thursday, March 24, “The Wall That Heals” will officially be open to the public with an opening ceremony at 10am. This will include raising the flag, dignitaries, and presentation of the colors.
Although the exhibit will be open 24 hours a day, school groups are scheduled for the mornings from 8–11am. The grounds reopen to the public at 11am and will be accessible until 8am the following morning. The grounds will close on March 27 at 2pm so “The Wall That Heals” can be taken down and packed for the trip to its next stop in Garner, NC.
Since 9/11/2001, veterans of all ages often hear “thank you for your service” and “welcome home.” While many Vietnam veterans appreciate the recognition, they are cognizant that this new generation of veterans enlisted by choice rather than being required to serve through the draft. The traveling wall provides an opportunity to share experiences and bridge the gaps between generations.
Danny Davison, Army veteran ’68–’70, is a member of the Sam C. Ladner VFW 4808. Davison said, “The Wall is important because it reminds us that we need people willing to fight to have a country with freedoms. Veterans need to be respected. Instead of saying ‘thank you for your service,’ they should say ‘thank you for our freedoms.’”
Although not initially admitted to the VFW upon return from Vietnam, he said that now all veterans are encouraged to come and find healing at the VFWs.
“The Wall That Heals” contains the names of 58,318 men and women who died in Vietnam. An information tent with computer screens and volunteers will be set up to assist visitors with locating the names of friends and family members on the exhibit. When Waveland resident Bryan Therolf visited a traveling Wall several years ago, he said found it very moving to see the names of six of his classmates.
New this year is the “In Memory” program started by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which honors those who returned home from Vietnam alive but later died. “The Wall That Heals” brings “In Memory” to communities with names and photos of those veterans as part of the mobile education display. See this page for more details or to submit an application to have a veteran honored.
“The Wall That Heals” will be at the Bay Waveland High School Sports Arena, 750 Blue Meadow Road, Bay St. Louis. It will be open to the public March 24–26, 11am–8am, and on March 27, 11am–2pm. For more information on the 2022 tour, visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.
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