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58,307: The Names On The Vietnam Wall

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Eva Lugo and her mother Crystal copy the name of a Vietnam veteran.

This week thousands have been flocking to a traveling model of the Vietnam wall in New Braunfels that will be there through Sunday. For many encountering the names of loved ones lost to war, the wall has a powerful, emotional impact. 


The ground is still wet from a passing rain storm. That, however, is not stopping people from scanning the 58,000 names on this replica of the Vietnam Memorial wall stationed at the Tree of Life Church in New Braunfels. It’s a scaled down model of the wall near the National Mall in Washington.


Crystal Lugo holds a piece of paper over the engraving of a name. Her daughter  Eva rubs a pencil over it to make an impression. “We copied ‘Rafael De Leon,’ he’s from Donna, Texas.”   


Crystal’s mother Anne Harden stands behind them. “I went to his funeral before I graduated from high school. He had dropped out and was drafted. So that was 1969. April of 1969.”


They’re collecting six names in all.  


Eva says, “Vincent Rodriguez … Vincente Rodriguez, there was Joe Devolt … So they all were with our uncles in Vietnam…” Eva says.  Crystal adds “They were all friends from the same community. They all went to Vietnam together.”


They’re just a few people of the dozens reflecting on the lives lost during the Vietnam War. Many others reach up or bend down shading names of their own. They’re family members, friends, and even veterans.


Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Retired Vietnam Veteran Louis Rivas

Sixty-nine-year-old Louis Rivas is a retired 17-year Army veteran.  He scans the names from a distance while wearing think black sunglasses. He served in Vietnam as a member of a LRRP unit, or long-range reconnaissance patrol.


“As a LRRP I was a team leader, I went up all the ranks as a team leader, we had an eight-man, nine-man team, RTO, rifleman, ammo-bearer, the list goes on and on,” Rivas says.


This is his first time visiting a Vietnam wall. But he doesn’t get very close to it. Rivas stays about 20 feet back. “I don’t think I have the balls, honestly, to get up there and get a name down because they’ll probably break me down and send me somewhere I don’t want to be. I deal with PTSD and I’m a disabled vet and this is about as close as I’m going to get to the wall.”


That’s because many of the names would trigger memories for Rivas. “I lost a lot of friends, a lot of friends, over 100 people that I know are dead on the wall. Gone. Like I’m talking to you one day and the next day, or the next hour, they’re gone. Gone.”


The names on the wall are arranged chronologically by the dates the men and women died. “All we have now is just names and memories of them. They left parents. They left kids, they left families, jobs, and they left the states to go die somewhere else, and that’s pretty sad.”


Story continues below photo



Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio


The first few panels are short with only a few dozen names. These soldiers died during the earliest part of the Vietnam War. But as the war goes on, so does the timeline. The panels grow taller and include hundreds of names. 


Neal Donop is the missions director for Tree of Life Church.  He says the names of those missing in action are also there. “And those people, next to their name, there is a plus sign that indicates they are MIA. When they are found then that plus sign is replaced with a diamond.”


This particular wall travels every couple of weeks. It most recently came from Flint, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. John Barron is the operations director for American Veterans Traveling Tribute. “People need to come see it and show, honor, and give respect, in remembrance to those that protect and defend our way of life that we enjoy here in America."

Barton continues, freedom isn't free. The cost is written in these 58,307 names.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules