A traveling memorial wall exhibit touched the lives of dozens of people in Pearl River on Nov. 13, as they braved the cold, rainy weather to get a glimpse of the tribute to those killed in the Vietnam War.
“The Wall that Heals” made a brief stop at Poitevent Park on its way to a scheduled display in Franklinton. American flags lined the entrance to the park for a patriotic welcome to the caravan and guests, many of whom arrived with stars and stripes flying on their motorcycles and trucks.
Pearl River Mayor David McQueen and Alderwoman Bridget Bennett invited the community to the event, and officers with the Pearl River Police Department escorted the truck. Although the wall remained enclosed in the truck, it was a special opportunity to celebrate the exhibit’s visit.
The wall is a three-fourths size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is 375 feet long and 7½ feet high at its tallest point, along with a mobile education center.
Joey Roberts, veterans outreach coordinator for the exhibit’s visit to Pearl River and Franklinton, said the wall bears 58,318 names of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War, including 886 from Louisiana. “We’re one of the first towns to have this version of it,” he said.
According to Roberts, seeing the wall is such an emotional experience for many veterans that they cannot approach it up close. “Unless you’ve been to the wall and seen the reaction from the veterans, you’ll never understand,” he said. “It offers an opportunity for healing.”
Visitors to the exhibit in Franklinton will be able to “etch a keepsake” of names on the wall. “That’s going to mean a lot to the veterans,” Roberts said.
Area residents waved flags to the caravan as it passed through Pearl River. “It’s a big day for us,” said state Sen. Beth Mizell, who was on hand greeting guests at the park. “We’ve just been so excited to have this here.”
Mizell applied to have the wall visit Franklinton, and the town was chosen as one of 38 places in the U.S. to host the exhibit this year. It will be open around the clock for visitation and will be guarded.
Among the volunteer guards will be Vietnam veteran Johnny Dominguez, of Franklinton, member of the American Legion Riders who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Div. 1969-70. Names of fallen soldiers from his battalion are listed on the wall.
“It’s going to mean a lot to me to walk up to it. I don’t know how well I’ll do (emotionally),” Dominguez said during the Pearl River stop. He said has considered visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., but could not bring himself to go. Memories of seeing his military brothers killed are brought to mind, and the traveling wall could help in healing after all these years.
Others at the park included members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, officers from Louisiana State Police, St. Tammany and Washington Parish Sheriff’s Offices, Probation and Parole Office, area fire districts, Pearl River Junior ROTC and motorcycle riders from Ride of the Brotherhood, Blue Knights, Red Knights, Patriot Guard, veterans and families.
The event culminated with a reception organized by Janice O’Berry, chairwoman for St. Tammany Recreation District No. 7 in Pearl River, and included a red, white and blue cake. “It’s a way for us to honor our veterans, and a way for our veterans to come out (and have) fellowship with one another,” O’Berry said.
The wall was open for public viewing at the Washington Parish Fairgrounds in Franklinton starting Nov. 14-18. A candlelight memorial and reading of the names on the wall of those lost from Louisiana took place Nov. 17.
For information, visit thewallfranklinton.com.