BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) - A half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial called “The Wall That Heals” is coming to Bristol for a week in early June.
The chevron-shaped wall, about 250 feet long, consists of 24 interlocking panels constructed of powder-coated aluminum that list the names of every member of the U.S. military who died in the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 in all.
The four-day visit “will be a great boon to the city,” said Russ Trudel, commander of the American Legion post on Hooker Court.
When a similar traveling wall came to Memorial Boulevard in 1998, tens of thousands of people were drawn to it during its stint in Bristol, arriving day and night to touch a loved one’s name, leave behind a memento or just to pay their respects.
“We had people coming all the time,” recalled Pat Nelligan, who helped organize the visit 17 years ago.
Some sobbed as they found the name of an old friend, a neighbor or a son. One New Britain veteran sadly recalled the night 16 of the 19 soldiers in his squad perished under his command.
They left behind, at the foot of the Wall, everything from photographs to basketballs. Somebody gulped down a shot glass full of Wild Turkey and left a companion glass at the foot of the Wall, still full.
It proved an emotional powerhouse- a sort of community catharsis for a war that many hated and few loved -that area veterans have talked about ever since.
The time has come to bring the wall back, Trudel said.
Reflecting on the growing age of Vietnam veterans, nearly all of them senior citizens now, Trudel said, “Before long, we won’t have these guys around.”
The wall coming next year is slated to open to the public on June 9 along the V-shaped walkways on the north side of the boulevard- on the same site as the previous one, whose footprint was used to create a brick memorial walkway for all veterans.
A marker on the site notes the 1998 visit and three flagpoles installed before the Moving Wall arrived, where permanent lighting and a water fountain have been added since. The gazebo also dates to the earlier visit by a touring wall.
Trudel said details of the visit are still being worked out, but it will take many volunteers and sponsors to make it as successful as the earlier event. A planning session will be held in early January, he said, and he hopes many will turn out there to offer to lend a hand.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, located in Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial, is one of the nation’s most visited tourist spots.
Large crowds there look over the polished black marble slabs that list those who fell during the war. Many leave notes, flowers and mementos at its base- which also happens with the Moving Wall.
The V-shaped wall carries the names of the men and women who died in service to the nation during the Vietnam War between 1959 and 1975.
During those years, the U.S. sought to bolster the regime in South Vietnam under siege from communist North Vietnam. A peace agreement in 1973 led to an American withdrawal, but North Vietnam broke the pact and took over the entire country two years later.
The last visit by a traveling wall drew about $68,000 in donations, a response that former Mayor Art Ward once called “a great tribute” by the community for those who served. Trudel said it may be cheaper this time around because organizers charge less and much of the infrastructure is already in place.
Trudel said there have been so many improvements made to the boulevard in the years since the last traveling wall that those who come this time will be impressed.
“It is a good thing for people to see what it is we have done,” he said.
Memorial Boulevard, constructed after World War I, is lined with markers and memorials honoring the men and women who have served in all of the country’s wars.
Information from: The Bristol Press, https://www.bristolpress.com
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