‘It brings tears to my eyes’: Wall That Heals on display at VFW in Ocean View

Vietnam veteran Frank Bolen, left, and others lend a helping hand as Tim Tetz, site manager for the Wall That Heals, offers instructions during the last panel placements. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

OCEAN VIEW — On a 90-plus-degree coastal Delaware day, a small army of volunteers, many of them Vietnam War veterans, carried and helped lock into place the 140-plus panels that comprise “The Wall That Heals.”

“This,” said Vietnam veteran Mike Mallach, “was a cakewalk compared to what we went through over there. This was nothing!”

By late afternoon Wednesday, LED fixtures that provide special nighttime ambiance were in place, signaling the start of the Wall That Heals’ five-day, round-the-clock public display on the grounds of Veterans of Foreign Wars Mason-Dixon Post 7234.

The traveling exhibit, whose next stop is Indiana, Pennsylvania, will be open 24/7 at VFW Post 7234 on Marshy Hope Way through 2 p.m. Sunday.

Indian River Bay is the scenic backdrop.

Members of Vietnam Veterans of America Sussex County Chapter 1105 pitched in during the set-up of the Wall That Heals, on display into Sunday afternoon at VFW Mason-Dixon Post 7234 in Ocean View. From left, Mike Tuckman, Mike Mallach, Joe Moore, Bruce Graber, Max Kopp, Rodger Rose and Ray Stancill.

“We do 35 to 40 stops a year,” said Tim Tetz, site manager for the Wall That Heals. “This year we are doing 35, and this is certainly one of the more beautiful, picturesque sites. It’s incredible.”

A three-quarters scale replica of the Memorial Wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the traveling exhibit — 146 panels, 375 feet in length and more than 7 feet at its highest point — brings the national heritage memorial to people in communities throughout the United States.

The Wall That Heals displays the 58,276 American military personnel who died in Vietnam. Sometimes, it opens old wounds.

“It does open wounds,” said Vietnam veteran Max Kopp, who served in 1966-67. “When you see your guys — I have two best friends on that wall — it just brings tears to my eyes every time. It’s hard to talk about it.”

Among the volunteer corps were members and auxiliary of VFW Post 7234 and chapter members of Vietnam Veterans of America Sussex County 1105.

“It’s the 58,000 guys who have given their life and sacrificed for our country to give us the freedoms that we have now,” said VVA Chapter 1105 member Rodger Rose.

From left, VFW Mason-Dixon Post 7234 members Bill Healy, John Gossart and Richard Wagner wait in line with a panel for the Wall That Heals.

Other Chapter 1105 members shared their reflections of what the Wall That Heals means.

“Fifty-eight thousand stories, 58,000 lives, 58,000 families and many, many years involved in the sacrifice by not only these guys on the wall but their families,” said Joe Moore, the chapter’s president who served two tours in Vietnam.

“It’s respect and honor,” said Vietnam veteran Mike Tuckman. “And the message is simple: Everybody needs to come and see the wall and show their appreciation.”

“There are 58,000-plus heroes on that wall,” said Mr. Mallach. “Most of them I didn’t know personally. Some of them, I was there when they died. And every one is a separate story, and it’s going to be a memory forever.”

VVA Chapter 1105 member Ray Stancill calls all 58,276 listed on the wall “heroes.

Panels are all in place at the Wall That Heals as volunteers provide floral decorations to the grounds at VFW Mason-Dixon Post 7234 in Ocean View.

“Every one of them I take my hat off to them. I love them all,” he said. “As the future goes, I hope these young kids learn from their elders, and learn in fact that all wars are not totally the same. This war accomplished nothing.”

Dagsboro resident Frank Bolen, a proud Marine who served in Vietnam in 1968-69, says when he helps at Vietnam wall events it stirs deep emotions.

“One of the biggest things was when we came home from ‘Nam’ we never had a chance to goodbye to our buddies,” said Mr. Bolen. “There were no funerals, no goodbyes. Helicopters came in and took whoever and he was gone. You didn’t know if your buddies made it back or not.

“That’s what started me off, looking at the wall, looking at the names, trying to figure out who made it home and who didn’t. You had no idea of knowing. I lost quite a few of them.”

Vietnam veterans Frank Bolen, left, of Dagsboro and Jim Jensen of Ocean View chat following the set-up of the Wall That Heals at VFW Post 7234 in Ocean View.

Mr. Bolen, who after several decades recently received the Navy Commendation for Valor for his service, shared an interesting happening that occurred during Wednesday’s wall set-up.

“Normally, what I do is I stay by the trailer and help dish out the panels to the guys to carry. Well, this time they asked me to run a crew putting up panels. I ended up getting the east wall, and that got me upset a little because all of my buddies are on the west wall,” he said. “So, we’re down there putting them up and all of a sudden, they bring a panel down to the east side, and it didn’t fit. We looked down and it was panel 27 W, which is the panel where all my buddies are at.

“For some reason, whether God, the Marine Corps, or somebody … brought that panel down to me and I was able to walk it up from the east back up to the west where it belonged,” said Mr. Bolen. “I’m not religious or anything. I believe in the Marine Corps and Sears & Roebuck, that’s about it. But strange things happen at these walls.”

The Wall That Heals, which was on display at Delaware Technical Community College in September 2016, offers unique features.

The welcome mat is out for Vietnam veterans at Veterans of Foreign Wars Mason-Dixon Post 7234, the host for the Wall That Heals on display now into Sunday afternoon.

“We have a screen that shows everyone here from this county, all the Delaware counties as well as the Maryland counties that touch Sussex County who are on the wall,” said Mr. Tetz. “And a second screen shows the 100 men from Maryland and Delaware who came home and later died of illnesses or injuries related to their service and have been honored through the ‘In Memory’ program.”

Mr. Tetz saluted the huge volunteer turnout.

“You made it happen,” he said, hoping for a similar volunteer army for wall takedown Sunday afternoon. “You know how it came out. You know how it’s got to go back in. And it’s going to be a much cooler day, so we won’t have any of that 91-degree temperature.”

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