The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall arrived in Prescott on Wednesday, after being escorted by the Patriot Riders from Mayer to the Prescott Gateway Mall. Set up began at 8 AM on Thursday morning, and by noon it was ready for a private VA Ceremony and viewing.
The ‘soft opening’ took place at 1:30 PM on Thursday as a community event. The Honor Guard from the Prescott ROTC program presented the colors.
Students from Granville Elementary School performed two songs.
Doug Keller sang the National Anthem and various speakers spoke, including City of Prescott Attorney Jon Paladini. Gold Star Mothers placed a wreath at the wall.
Afterwards, the students learned about the wall, and made rubbings with paper and pencils. Groups of people wandered along and viewed the Wall. Many people obviously found names they recognized. Volunteers were there to answer questions and help people find names they were looking for amongst the more than 58,000 names on the Wall. The mood was solemn and respectful.
One volunteer explained that if a • were next to the name, the remains were recovered. Those names with a + beside them are Missing In Action.
Friday night was the official Opening Ceremony. Attorney Paladini spoke again pretty much repeating his comments from the day before. It didn’t matter, his words were thoughtful and moving. Col. Fred Cone spoke of his memories of the Vietnam people, speaking highly of their work ethic and their friendliness. He had several tours beginning in the late 1950’s and ending in the '70’s.
This event, too, was solemn and respectful. The Young Marines of Central Arizona were spiffed up and so serious. Their shoes were polished to a reflective shine that would make any service member proud. Colonel Cone brought some kindly humor in his stories of the Vietnam people, subtly reminding those in the audience that we are at peace with the Vietnamese people now.
No political correctness at this ceremony. The prayer offered Chaplain Gary Sheldon was unabashedly “…in Jesus’ name.” When Anna Nava sung the National Anthem, several people looking at the wall stopped and stood in honor while she was singing.
At the end of the service, a Candlelight Vigil was planned, but the breeze gathered strength during the event, and the candles wouldn’t stay lit.
A few memorial items were left at the wall, a couple of wreaths, prayer sticks and a photo of Captain Danny Day Entrican, still Missing in Action.
During the pre-briefings offered to the press, it was explained that frequently the Vets choose to come at night, where they can honor their loved ones and comrades in quiet and privacy.
Stopping in on Saturday evening around 9:30, one vet was there, standing still for a long time in front of a particular panel. He was wearing his Army fatigues, and his combat boots, and a well-worn leather jacket. He walked carefully with his two canes. Eventually, he stepped back and saluted, and then turned and walked slowly along the wall.
“Thank you for your service,” I said.
“Thank you for supporting us,” he replied softly.