A new replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall made a pit stop in San Antonio Tuesday, before beginning its 2018 nationwide tour. USAA employees got a sneak peek of the mobile education center and exhibit before it headed off to Portland, Texas, for a public display on March 1.
The exhibit, called The Wall That Heals, honors Americans who served in the military during Vietnam, and bears the names of the more than 58,000 troops who died.
Made of Avonite, a reflective granite-like material, the three-quarter scale replica is 375 feet in length and stands 7.5 feet high at its tallest point. The wall gradually rises above visitors as they walk toward the apex, a key design feature of the wall in D.C. For the first time, visitors can do rubbings of individual service member’s names on The Wall That Heals.
Jim Knotts, president and CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said the traveling wall gives more people a chance to confront the past.
"By being able to return the names to communities around the country, we're able to give more and more people that healing opportunity,” he said.
The accompanying mobile education center contains items and letters left at the the D.C. memorial, as well as other memorabilia: a pair of combat boots that belonged to Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund; a medical bag; a tribute to the women of the war; and a screen dedicated to each town’s Vietnam vets.
Knotts said that there’s a timeline effect to the exhibit, moving from the dedication of the D.C. wall in 1982 up to the present day.
“What you see is the change in our nation from Vietnam through the Persian Gulf to Afghanistan and Iraq of how our nation has come to grips with the fact that we didn’t treat our Vietnam Veterans well when they came home,” Knotts said.
“I think we’re still in the process of reckoning with that. It certainly has gotten better. But also, why we were there. Why 58,000 people’s names are on a wall, in a memorial,” Knotts said.
A Desert Storm veteran himself, Knotts said he received a warm reception when he returned home from combat, and that later generations of soldiers are indebted to Vietnam veterans for that.
“It’s important to take this time now, while two thirds of our Vietnam veterans are still alive, to remember them, to thank them for their service in a way many of them never received when they returned home,” he said.
USAA employee Inzia Miller can vouch for the change in social perspective. She was a young woman during the Vietnam era and knew soldiers who served in the conflict.
“The fact that our soldiers, our heroes, went over there and served in Vietnam and when they came home were not treated nicely made me want to go to Vietnam and come to the memorial today,” she said.
After stopping in Portland, Texas, the wall will move on to Killeen and Eastland.
Carson Frame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carson_frame