Somber opening evening at the Vietnam Traveling Wall memorial
The Traveling Wall, an 80-percent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, opened to the public on Thursday at Penn State’s Innovation Park as part of WPSU’s recognition of the war’s 50th anniversary.
The temporary wall is open 24 hours a day through Sunday afternoon, and educational programs and concerts will be held at various times throughout the weekend.
A team of local volunteers has been assembled to guide visitors through the installation, which stands more than 7 feet tall in spots and includes the names of more than 58,000 soldiers who died in the war.
Retired Marine and Vietnam War veteran Jay Buchanan and his wife, Elaine, volunteered for the weekend. The Huntingdon couple will help visitors locate names of loved ones who died in the war.
When Jay Buchanan isn’t paging though the dictionary-thick book of names and wall locations or handing out trace paper for name rubbing, he will be reflecting on his time in the war.
“This is just incredible, and when I look at it, I think about survival and being over there and how lucky I was to come back,” Buchanan said. “These women and men didn’t and that’s a powerful thing. They didn’t survive and this wall is a wonderful way to recognize them.”
The first few hours the memorial was open, Buchanan said veterans gathered to reflect on their experiences in the war and to find names of their fallen friends.
“Oh man, it’s incredible and I knew this would happen,” Buchanan said with a bright smile. “Just in a few hours, I’ve met guys with two or three Purple Hearts and we immediately bond. To be a Marine is bond enough, but then to be a Vietnam veteran is another very special bond.”
The centerpiece of the entertainment will be at 7 p.m. Saturday when WPSU will hold a screening of “A Time to Heal,” a 60-minute documentary produced by Lindsey Whissel Fenton, that offers the perspectives of Pennsylvanians who fought, protested and prayed for loved ones to come home from the war.
The memorial closes at 3 p.m. Sunday.