- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Steve Koressel has seen the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., twice - but always from a distance.

The Marine from Evansville spent a year in Vietnam, but it’s taken him nearly 35 years to reach a place in his life where he is ready to experience The Wall up close.

Koressel said he is joining a bus trip for Vietnam veterans to the memorial next month because he doesn’t think he will have a chance again. At age 65, he has post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and is undergoing cancer treatment.

The trip on April 28-30 is being organized by the Newburgh chapter of Point Man International Ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving all veterans a place where they can express themselves openly and heal spiritually as well as emotionally.

“I’ve seen it, but never any closer than 50 yards away. I just couldn’t get any closer,” he told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1BnNd9Y ).

Koressel said he was so overcome with emotion that he wouldn’t let his wife take his picture by it.

“This time when I go to the wall, I’m going to march right up to it,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

He will even let his wife take that picture this time.

Even seeing the traveling version of The Wall has been difficult for him.

“When the traveling Wall came to Boonville, I went but I wasn’t going to go down and see it. There was this guy in a U.S. Marine Corps hat and he asked if I had been down to see it yet. I said no, that I was going to go home. He grabbed me and said, ‘Not until you go down there,’” Koressel said.

The fellow veteran helped Koressel pick out a few names to look for and then went with him to see it.

“I did that and I went out and I cried a little bit,” Koressel said.

When traveling version came to the West Side of Evansville, Koressel was more prepared. At the end of the day he slipped down to it with four Hamm’s beers and the names of some of his buddies from his unit who died there.

“I drank mine and left three of them there with them,” he said.

Barry Martens, 64, flies helicopters for the Air Evac Lifeteam emergency medical service now. In 1970, he flew helicopter gunships for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

“It’s just in the last 10 years or so that I can talk about it,” he said. “The way people look at being in the service has changed.”

Martens said The Wall’s design is an apt metaphor for their experiences.

“It’s just like Vietnam. It’s low profile,” Martens said. “We stay below the surface and don’t make waves.”

The memorial is tucked away near a corner of the National Mall. Horizontal and low to the ground (just 10 feet tall at its apex), The Wall appears to be set into the earth. Its black granite panels are inscribed with the chronologically ordered names of the more than 58,000 Americans who died or went missing during the Vietnam War.

It’s more of a place for quiet reflection than a statement of grand ideals and accomplishments.

“If you are carrying a burden or carrying a weight, I believe a Vietnam veteran can go to The Wall and leave something of that burden there,” Martens said.

It was beautiful day when Martens visited The Wall in 2002, but the memorial was crowded with tourists.

“My wife probably asked me 25 times ‘Are you OK?’ ” Martens said. “I prayed, ‘God give me some peace here.’ I asked God, how do I have my moment at The Wall?”

Other visitors jostled and distracted him as he tried to find the four names he brought with him to look for that day.

“It started to rain. It had been a beautiful sun-shiny day and it clouded up. People began leaving so we moved up closer. Then it cut loose and it poured. We were standing there, huddled and keeping warm and I noticed we were alone,” Martens said. “I asked my wife, ‘Do you notice anything?’ I turned around and look down and there were the four names right at my elbow. That’s how you have your moment at The Wall.”

Point Man meets weekly, at 6:30 p.m. Mondays, at Crossroads Christian Church. Veterans of all ages and wars are welcomed. It’s a place where veterans can speak freely and help each other heal, said Steve Green, Point Man president and a U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam.

Participation has grown to about 40 attendees each meeting, but weekly discussion meetings aren’t all Point Man does. Organizing the trip to The Wall is just one of the group’s many activities. Members often join together to help each other outside of meetings and do volunteer service, Green said.


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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