For some veterans, July 4th is day to remember Vietnam

 

Delaware Vietnam Veterans of America President Paul Davis, left, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Director of public outreach Tim Tetz stand in front of The Wall That Heals. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

Delaware Vietnam Veterans of America President Paul Davis, left, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Director of public outreach Tim Tetz stand in front of The Wall That Heals. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

DOVER — It was a fitting juxtaposition, simultaneously a celebration and a remembrance. On July 4, the most patriotic of days, a day when millions upon millions of Americans celebrate their country and revel in their independence, people gathered in a small park to solemnly honor the 58,000-plus Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

Later in the day, many of the visitors would be grilling, relaxing, celebrating the occasion. But there was also time to reflect on and honor the dead. Some people wore American flag shirts or hats, and many others wore military apparel, including caps proclaiming them to be Vietnam War veterans.

Ruth Bramble, of Felton, reflects as she points to her brother’s name on The Wall That Heals. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

Ruth Bramble, of Felton, reflects as she points to her brother’s name on The Wall That Heals. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

“Heroes don’t wear capes. They wear dog tags,” read one man’s shirt.

In the background, volunteers took turns reading out loud the names of some of those killed in Vietnam.

The Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., has resided in Dover since Thursday and will remain at the Vietnam memorial park until this evening. Hundreds of citizens have visited the traveling wall in the past days, reading the names and remembering the dead.

“It brought back a flood of memories and a lot of what-ifs,” said veteran Pete Senft, a Dover resident.

Mr. Senft, who said he has never visited the memorial in Washington because it would be too emotional, found the names of several friends on the wall, including one he said was like a brother to him.

For many, it’s a chance to heal.

“You see people up at the wall, you can see the emotion,” said Paul Davis, president of the Delaware Vietnam Veterans of America. “See some of them, tears in their eyes. You see some of them touching the wall.”

A number of people stopped to find specific names on the wall, remembering a friend or a family member who died too soon.

Ruth Bramble, of Felton, came to find her brother’s name. Elmer L. Faulkner Jr. died on June 18, 1968, four months after he shipped out to Vietnam.

Ms. Bramble has been to the memorial in Washington a few times and said while it helps, “it still hurts.”

It’s an emotional visit for some. A flood of feelings wait just under the surface, bubbling up as memories drift to the forefront.

“Every single name represents a person who gave their life,” Mr. Senft said.

This is the wall’s second visit to Dover. Founded in 1996, The Wall That Heals visited the Green around 1998, according to Mr. Davis.

He played an integral role in getting the wall to Dover, where it was set up next to memorials honoring soldiers who fought for America.

The location allows people to view the 250-foot-long wall and then stroll over to see the local monuments, such as the mounted Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter.

Visitors stopped by early in the morning and late at night, anxious to pay their respects.

Americans flags were planted in the ground by the wall, and a bouquet of flowers lay in front of the wall in one spot.

On Saturday, just a couple hundred feet away, participants in the 16th Annual Freedom 5K Run/Walk and Roll finished the run. Proceeds from the 5K will go to local veterans.

Turnout for both the run and to see the wall were good, according to Mr. Davis.

Tim Tetz, director of public outreach for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, called the public response both amazing and moving.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund has been trying to obtain photos of every one of the 166 Delawareans who died in the Vietnam War. As of Saturday morning, they were about 45 short, having received approximately a dozen images from visitors over the past few days.

The wall is many things to many people. Perhaps most crucially, it’s a way for so many who were touched by the bloody and controversial war to look to the past while moving on.

Tearing up as he remembered his own experiences, Mr. Senft reflected on the wall’s meaning.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said, pointing to a woman getting her picture taken as she looked at one of the 58,307 names on the wall.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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