By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
A well-traveled “soldier,” carrying its share of battle scars, came home for the last time Friday afternoon.
Escorted by a phalanx of motorcyclists whose bikes carried American flags flapping in the warm late-fall breeze, the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Memorial Wall was welcomed to Enid, where it will go on permanent display next year.
More than 300 motorcyclists, many of them Vietnam veterans, escorted the wall from Sand Springs to Enid for the official welcoming ceremony held in the newly reopened Convention Hall.
As part of the ceremony, Don Allen, AVTT chief executive officer, accepted a $500,000 check from Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall Project Committee co-chair Bob Farrell — making the wall officially the property of the Woodring Wall of Honor.
The wall will be displayed at Enid Woodring Regional Airport, adjacent to the Woodring Wall of Honor. The official dedication is planned for next Memorial Day.
“This wall has been all over the United States,” Allen said. “It is a soldier. It’s got its battle scars.”
Allen told of the phone call he received from Woodring Wall of Honor Executive Director Elaine Johns about 18 months ago, inquiring about the possibility of permanently bringing a retired traveling wall to Enid. At first, Allen was somewhat reluctant, because of a previous bad experience with a retired wall.
“You just can’t tell Elaine no,” Allen said.
The well-traveled wall, Allen said, has accomplished the AVVT’s goal.
“We have a saying, ‘If you touch the wall, it will touch you,’” he said. “It has touched many, many people, and continues to touch many people.”
The wall, an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., contains the names of 58,272 people who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. But it also represents those who lost their lives after the war as a consequence of their service, as well as the families of those who died.
“It not only represents those who served, but certainly those families that remained home,” Allen said. “Because the true cost of war, the true cost of freedom, is paid not by those who died, but by those who have to persevere and remain, and live their lives in the absence of their loved ones.”
Allen, himself a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said he is happy to see the wall come to Enid, which has 16 names of its residents on the memorial.
“The biggest reason that Elaine was able to convince me to do this here is because of the patriotism of this community and Oklahoma as a state,” he said. “This tribute that has touched so many people is not going to sit somewhere and wait for somebody to come out and say, ‘Oh, isn’t that nice.’ It is going to be used to further the patriotism of this community.”
David Henneke, president of the Woodring Wall of Honor Board, read the names of all 72 people from northern Oklahoma on the memorial wall. He also unveiled the architect’s drawings of the wall’s new home.
Video: Traveling wall comes home to Enid
Photo slideshow of events surrounding wall's arrival
Henneke said before the ceremony he thanked a couple of riders from Tulsa who accompanied the wall on its final journey.
“They said, ‘Anything for the wall,’” Henneke said. “We here in Enid feel the same way. That’s why we are doing this, and that’s why we want this wall here in northern Oklahoma.”
Dan Ohnesorge, co-chairman of the effort to raise funds to bring the wall to Enid, said the goal was to get as many people involved as possible, to give many in the community a sense of ownership in the wall.
“I think we have succeeded in doing that,” Ohnesorge said.
The wall has been purchased, but the fundraising effort continues, he stressed. The group is trying to raise $100,000 to install the wall, plus for enhancements. Of that, $40,000 already has come in. Donations should be sent to Vietnam Memorial Wall Project, c/o Security National Bank, P.O. Box 1272, Enid, OK 73702, or donations can be made in person at SNB.
Until the end of February, anyone donating $1,000 or more will be recognized with their name on a monument near the wall. The cutoff date is necessary to allow time for the donors’ names to be engraved into the monument. The Vietnam Memorial Wall Project is a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning all donations are tax-deductible.
City Commissioner Todd Ging, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, said: “More than any other memorial, this one identifies the individual sacrifice of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall is 80 percent the size of the original, but still is more than 380 feet long and 8 feet high at its tallest point, made of anodized aluminum.
After the ceremony, the wall was taken to Woodring, where it will be stored until the installation process begins sometime in the next two months.