Tahlequah Daily Press

April 17, 2013

A solemn tribute

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Monuments give permanence to a person, a group of people, or event that should always be remembered.

The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, which is expected to be retired at the end of this year, has traveled across the country for 23 years to allow Vietnam veterans, their families and friends and those who honor and support the U.S. military an opportunity to pay respect to those who fought and died for the nation’s freedom.

For veterans, visiting the wall can provide closure to a time in their lives they will never forget.

“A lot of people have forgotten, but a lot of us didn’t. The wall is our fallen comrades,” said Fort Gibson resident Chuck Logston, a Vietnam war veteran. “We lost a lot of people over there. The heroes are on that wall over there. We’re just walking casualties, you might say.”

The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall was led down U.S. Highway 69 from Big Cabin through Muskogee into the Tahlequah area Tuesday by a motorcade that consisted of 200 motorcycles and several members of a local antique car club.

The traveling, three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be on 24-hour display today through Sunday, April 21, at Sequoyah High School football field. The opening ceremony is set for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 18, and a closing ceremony is set for 4:30 p.m., Sunday, April 21.

New Life Worship Center Pastor and Vietnam War veteran Garland Thomas, who coordinated the motorcade, said he was happy the sponsors invited him and the Priesthood Motorcycle Ministry to escort the wall, which began its journey to Oklahoma five days ago in Michigan. Tahlequah is the first venue where the wall can be seen this year.

“One of the reasons we all started doing this is it allows people who really do support the vets, to be a part of actually bringing it into a community, and we’ll also escort it out. A lot of the guys who rode today are vets,” Thomas said. “We really appreciate the fact that people come and honor us for our service to our country. It’s always a moving thing to do. It’s pretty emotional, especially to Vietnam vets – just knowing there are the names of people they knew who didn’t come back. I have friends on that wall. [Visiting the wall is] similar, in a way, like when you would take someone to a grave. It’s sacred and special.”

As the wall will be accessible any hour of the day through Sunday, more volunteers are needed to help visitors, said Reed-Culver Funeral Home Manager Rodney Mattox.

“It doesn’t matter what hour of the day [volunteers] show up out here, we’ll put them to work,” he said. “Basically, the volunteers will help people find names on the wall. We’ll give visitors a piece of paper and the volunteers will be here to take them to the panel and help them find the name.”

Sequoyah High School Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden said the Cherokee Nation will be providing security and EMS service around the clock, and preparations have been made to allow easy access for individuals who may be handicapped or in a wheelchair.

“We’ve been preparing for it,” said Crittenden. “We’ve been doing work on the lighting, access to our concession stands, the field. We’ve modified the entry way, built this wood walkway to make it ease of access,” he said. “The last thing we want is for any of our disabled vets or family members to have any obstacles to getting to the wall. Our facilities crew has cut out railings and put in concrete, reconfigured everything to make it easily accessible from the handicap parking. We’re also going to rope off a minimum of 20 to 25 additional parking spots for handicapped parking. We designed it so there would be a straight shot in.”