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Veterans Pay Tribute on Vietnam Wall’s 25th Anniversary

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2007 – About 2,000 veterans, former and current military personnel, families and other spectators marked the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here today during the annual Memorial Day Observance.

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Visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial admire photos, flowers and other objects left along "The Wall" during the annual Memorial Day Observance May 28, 2007 in Washington, D.C. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel

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For a quarter of a century, family members, friends and cohorts have solemnly filed past the memorial commonly known as “The Wall,” seeking their loved ones among the 58,000 names of the fallen etched on the black granite panels.

“I think this is place where people feel very comfortable and they really become a part of the memorial by getting closer to it,” said Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and today’s master of ceremonies.

“It’s a good place for events that are patriotic and thoughtful in nature, and I think the spirits of the soldiers on the wall are probably always there for everybody,” he said.

Three names were added to the wall recently, he noted, bringing the total to 58,256. Family members read the names of Navy Fireman Apprentice Joseph Gerald Krywicki of Holton, Mich.; Army Sgt. Richard Monroe Pruett of San Diego, Calif.; and Army Spc. Wesley Alvin Stiverson of Monticello, Ill.

“The past is part of the present and part of the future as well,” he said, “so when it comes to military service, remembering those who have gone before is a part of honoring those who are serving us today.”

Scruggs paid tribute to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who attended the ceremony to honor their brothers in arms who fought before them. Several young men stood at attention, and family members of Army Sgt. Samuel Floberg lifted him from his wheelchair while the crowd applauded with fervor.

Floberg, a member of the North Dakota National Guard, was wounded in Afghanistan Nov. 23, 2006 during an ambush on his patrol vehicle.

“The fourth (rocket-propelled grenade) went through the door of the Humvee and took out my leg and took out the driver, Cpl. Nathan Goodiron,” said Floberg, whose right leg was amputated above his knee.

“The Wall heals,” Floberg said, watching Vietnam veterans studying the engraved names on the glassy granite wall. “It’s a place that people can come back and just reflect on their heroes, their brothers and sisters.”

Veterans groups, including Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion, Gold Star Wives, American Gold Star Mothers, Sons and Daughters in Touch, Jewish War Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Rolling Thunder, Inc. participated in the ceremony.

One of the Vietnam veterans among the hundreds of thousands of bikers riding in yesterday’s Rolling Thunder, said it took a long time for him to visit the wall.

Retired Navy field hospital corpsman Jim Enos, president of the Wilmington, N.C., Rolling Thunder chapter, said he has rumbled to the nation’s capital every year since 1996 for Vietnam veterans’ motorcycle rally on the National Mall here.

But it took him 10 years, he said, to face familiar names on the memorial wall.

“I did not visit The Wall until last year,” Enos said. “There are a lot of names on The Wall that I know, and it took me all those years.”

“First time I went to it last year, I had a good cry,” he said. “Now I can go to the Wall and I can just – I can handle it.”

Joseph M. Lawler, national capital regional director for the National Park Service, co-host of the ceremony along with the Vietnam Memorial Fund, told the audience that few visitors are untouched by the memorial’s symbolism.

“It’s somewhat ironic how often the mention of walls invokes the immediate thought of separation or barrier,” he said. “However, in this case the wall is a connector, a welcomed device, an instrument of unity.”

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, this year’s keynote speaker, told the audience “there is no single Vietnam war experience.” He implored veterans to think back on their unique reflections.

“As we remember all these experiences – and a lot of them are pretty darn positive, and we shouldn’t forget that – friendship, trust, courage, intense humor; shared misery done so easily by youth,” he said. “But a lot of that’s clouded by those of us who could not come home, whose lives were ended so completely in combat.”

“The pain is sharp … there’s a sense of permanent loss,” he said. “That’s why we’re here to remember, to pay honor to those memories, to learn and take comfort in their sacrifice.”

Teaching the lessons of fallen veterans’ example is the most important aspect of preserving their memory, the general said.

“There will be a final day of reckoning,” he said. “All of us here will again be reunited with these brave soldiers who we remember. The last time we saw them they were alive, frozen in time with their youth, their optimism.”

Alluding to surviving veterans’ mortality, including his own, McCaffrey said that everyone who fought in Vietnam will have a final homecoming.

“Then we’ll be able to say, ‘We have all come home together,’” he said. “God bless all of our 58,000 friends here. God bless you all.”

Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, acting Army surgeon general and commander for U.S. Army Medical Command, told audience members it was a privilege to join them in reaffirming a commitment to the men and women in uniform, and to the unknown number of civilians who served during Vietnam and other conflicts.

The U.S. is implementing ways to provide all veterans with the emotional and physical care and support they have earned, Pollock said. “Let us not forget the importance of talking about these invisible wounds so they can heal and not permanently scar and interfere with our lives,” she said.

“As I look out on the crowd,” she said, “I smile because I can only imagine how proud our fallen heroes would be to see all of you here today showing your appreciation for their selfless service for our incredible nation and simply saying ‘Thanks,’ to them for going the distance.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA visitor at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial stencils the name of a fallen servicemember during the annual Memorial Day Observance May 28, 2007 in Washington, D.C. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel  
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