ENGLEWOOD — Around 8,000 people came to see the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, commonly known simply as “The Wall,” during its five-day stay, which ended Monday in Englewood, organizers say.
Visitors came from Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties and beyond.
For many, the chance to see the three fifths-scale replica of the national monument in Washington, D.C., was an emotional experience. Some said they’d visited the original monument on the Mall. Others were grateful the wall came to them, saying said they would never have been able to make the trip up north to see it there.
The wall took three hours to install in Pioneer Park on Dearborn Street, two more hours to put in landscaping, and two years to bring to Englewood at a cost of $20,000.
Its visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and the 30th anniversary of the national memorial in Washington D.C.
Cher Macey, co-chairwoman of the grassroots Wall to Englewood committee, lost her first husband in the Vietnam War.
Bill Bond, co-chairman of the committee, said the group was originally trying to get the wall for Memorial Day but it was booked. “We had about a 1,000 people for the ceremony Saturday, and we touched an awful a lot of lives,” he said.
Operating since 2006, the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is a nonprofit veterans group based out of Melbourne, Fla. Englewood was its final stop for the year.
Greg Welsh, wall manager for Traveling Wall Co., takes bookings from May to November. The company is one of four traveling-wall memorial companies in the U.S., he said.
“I’ve been as far north as Wisconsin this year, and I’ve been as far west as Texas,” Welsh said. “We did 19 (stops) this year. Most people work a year in planning to get the wall in. It’s anywhere between 10 and 14 months planning. It depends on my schedule how long the wait is.”
Richard Young, an executive committeeman with American Legion Post 113, is with the Rotonda West Honor Guard, which participated in opening and closing ceremonies at the wall while it was in Englewood.
“I was very impressed with the service they did on Saturday,” Young said. “There was a great number of people, and I got to see some of the Vietnam vets who were having a little hard time with it. The community did a great job with putting this thing on and getting through it. It was a lot of work.”
Young, as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, said he used to go to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and lay wreaths at monuments commemorating World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“I think it’s great for the community because there’s a lot of people who’ll never get to Washington to see the actual monument,” Young said. “I was talking to an individual Monday morning. He was just looking at it and reading the names. He was in awe and it brought tears to his eyes looking at the number of people who were killed.”
Terry Corson, a retired colonel with the National Guard for 31 years, is commander of Amvets Post 312 in North Port. He lost many close friends in the war.
“I’ve been to the wall in Washington (D.C.),” Corson said. “It was the most somber experience. It was silent. This wall had the same effect. Many people went to the wall to do rubbings of lost loved ones. There were a lot of flowers and tears. Englewood can be proud to have had the wall. No words can describe the feelings.”
Gwen Runstadler, former president and lifetime member of the Ladies Auxiliary Veterans for Foreign Wars Post 10178, said it was an honor to be part of the committee that helped bring the wall to Englewood.
“I think for many people from Ellenton to down to Port Charlotte, it meant a great deal,” Runstadler said. “It meant some form or the beginning of closure for those knowing they may never get to D.C.”