The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 11, 2013

Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall comes home to Enid

By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — An “old soldier” found its final resting place Monday, as the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall purchased from a Texas veterans organization officially was retired and dedicated in a ceremony at Enid Woodring Regional Airport.

The 80 percent scale replica of the black granite memorial in Washington, D.C., now is on permanent display as part of the Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park complex. The wall can be viewed 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day of the year.

The wall was dedicated with a ceremony accompanied by pomp, pageantry and tears as a large crowd of veterans, family members and special guests gathered near the wall.

The project took some 21⁄2 years from conception to completion. A months-long fundraising effort gathered $250,000 (which was matched by an anonymous donor) to purchase the wall from American Veterans Traveling Tribute chief executive officer Don Allen. In all, the group raised more than $400,000.

Allen, one of the speakers at Monday’s dedication, said the wall had visited more than 200 communities and been seen and touched “by millions of people young and old.”

“We have a saying, ‘If you touch the wall, the wall will touch you,’” Allen said.

He called the setting for the wall, “A magnificent place. It couldn’t be any better than this.”

Allen, a retired Army officer, said, “A few of the names etched on this wall behind us are men in my command.”

It took six months to design the black anodized aluminum wall, Allen said, and six months to engrave the 58,286 names of those killed during the war on the wall’s panels.

David Henneke, president of the Woodring Wall of Honor board of directors, called the wall a “symbol of service,” before thanking the people whose vision and hard work made bringing the wall to Enid a reality. He especially singled out Elaine Johns, Woodring Wall of Honor executive director, as well as fundraising committee co-chairmen Dan Ohnesorge and Bob Farrell.

“Welcome home, Vietnam veterans,” Henneke said. “Enid, Oklahoma, is proud of each and every one of you.”

State Sen. Patrick Anderson read letters from former President George W. Bush and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. Fallin declared the wall Oklahoma’s official tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War. That stemmed from a joint resolution drafted by Anderson and state Reps. Mike Jackson and John Enns. Fallin had a prior commitment and couldn’t attend the ceremony, but Anderson announced Fallin plans to visit the memorial Wednesday evening.

Retired Air Force Col. Lee Ellis delivered the keynote address. Ellis, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison, said the biggest fear he and his fellow POWs had was being forgotten and abandoned by the people back home.

“That’s the one thing every soldier fears most, is to be forgotten, to be left behind,” said Ellis. “The one thing that this wall brings to us, is that these people, these men and women on that wall, will never be forgotten.”

Ellis said the names of four of his roommates in the Air Force, as well as in the prison camp, are engraved on the wall.

He challenged the people of Enid to use the wall “as healing and recognition of our veterans for years to come, so that people want to come to Enid, Oklahoma, to see this wall. Make it something special. Develop it in the years ahead and make it a real center of healing and remembrance, for all our veterans and especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

Ohnesorge and Farrell officially dedicated the wall and unveiled a plaque commemorating the event.

“This has been a huge and very worthy project,” said Ohnesorge. “I want to thank you for your tremendous support.”

Farrell, choking back tears, delivered the day’s most emotional speech.

“We gather here today as Americans, free Americans,” said Farrell, himself a Vietnam-era veteran.

He said Americans think of veterans as those who have served and retired, or separated from the military and pursued other interests.

“Many of the names on this wall didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy either of these options,” he said.

Farrell detailed the ages of those whose names are inscribed on the wall. More than 41,000 were just 22 or younger, 8,283 were just 19, 33,108 were 18, 12 were 17, five were 16 and one, Pfc. Dan Bullock, was just 15 years old.

“This wall is not a piece of Enid, of Oklahoma, or a piece of America, it is a piece of you. Honor it, heal by it and always use it to educate our youth that freedom isn’t free,” said Farrell.

Following the ceremony, which featured performances by the Enid High honor choir and Grammy- and Emmy-nominated trumpeter David Hooten, that process began, as families lined up to take photos of the wall or to take tracings of the names of loved ones.

Some stood in silence, simply touching the memorial, lost in their thoughts, while some left flowers in remembrance — in one instance, a single red rose.