"The Wall that Heals" stirs memories

Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Melinda Smith, former Leachville resident, visits the moving wall with her students at Nettleton charter school, Raider Open Door Academy. She points out several names from the Northeast Arkansas area. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

The traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall came to Jonesboro for a four day tour giving Northeast Arkansas residents a time to remember and honor the 58,245 heroes sacrificing their lives for their country.

The Traveling Wall is a half scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Monument Wall in Washington, D.C., that was erected in the early 1980s. The traveling wall has been called "The Wall That Heals." It was inaugurated in 1996 on Veterans Day.

The traveling wall has been in over 250 cities and towns throughout the United States and has been seen by almost two million people. The memorial wall was displayed on the Arkansas State University campus.

The Wall opened in Jonesboro Wednesday morning with an emotional opening ceremony. Col. Jerry W. Bowen, U.S. Army, retired, served as master of ceremonies. Bowen served two tours in Vietnam, 1967-68 and 1970-71.

The Arkansas National guard 875th Engineer Battalion posted the Colors. Julia Lansford, associate professor of music at ASU, sang the National Anthem. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by SMSGT. Weldon Roberts, USAF, retired.

The invocation was given by Commander Ron Durham, USN, retired.

Dr. Les Wyatt, president of Arkansas State University, was introduced by Col. Bowen.

"He wore the uniform of the U.S. Air Force," Bowen said.

Dr. Wyatt served as an Air Force Reserve medical officer. He made several med-flights evacuating injured soldiers in 1969-70.

"Without his service, there may have been more names on this wall," Bowen said.

Welcoming remarks were made by Dr. Wyatt, Jonesboro Mayor Doug Formon and Craighead County Judge Dale Haas.

Dr Wyatt welcomed everyone to ASU. He recognized a group of Nettleton School District students attending the ceremony.

"You were not born when the war was going on, but because of the sacrifices of the servicemen and women whose names are on the wall, you can be here today," he said. "It was done for you."

Mayor Formon served as a Jonesboro police officer for 17 years and member of the Jonesboro Police Department Honor Guard.

"It is a great day to be in Jonesboro," Mayor Formon said. "I was a young school age boy during the Vietnam era. Forman said he was struck by the fact that there are more than 58,000 names on the wall.

"Recent census estimated the population of Jonesboro at approximately 58,000," he said. "It is sobering when you think of it that way. As you travel around Jonesboro every face could represent a name on that wall. Every name on that wall has a mom and dad, a child, a wife, brother, sister or other relatives and friends."

Judge Haas served in the Marine Corps for six years. Bowen expressed his appreciation for the support that Judge Haas had given in the effort to construct the veterans' monument in Jonesboro.

"So many lives were given," Haas said. "But they were not given in vain. When you look at the wall, it touches your heart."

Haas quoted the scripture, "There is no greater love than to lay down your life for others. May God bless them," he said.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Tom J. Davis was the guest speaker for the opening ceremony. Davis was an ASU All American football player, in Army ROTC, and was an Army officer for 30 years.

"It is fitting and proper to share our respect to these veterans, the ones whose names are on the wall, and the ones serving today," Davis said.

"The Vietnam Memorial is the most visited monument in Washington, D.C.," he said. "The traveling wall does its share of visiting, too. It has been to more than two dozen cities in the U.S. and Canada this year."

He gave a history on the wall and it beginning when in 1979 Jan Scruggs conceived the idea of building the Vietnam veterans Memorial in Washington, as a tribute to all who served during the longest war in American history. Scruggs launched the effort with $2,800 of his own money and gradually gained the support of other Vietnam veterans in persuading Congress to provide a prominent location on federal government property. Scruggs headed up the effort that raised $8.4 million and saw the Memorial completed in two years. It was dedicated on Nov. 13, 1982, during a week-long national salute to Vietnam veterans in the nation's capital.

Davis noted that the monument lists war casualties by name only -- not by rank, awards, age or other identifier. That signifies that their sacrifices were equal.

Of the 58, 245 names of military personnel killed in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand between 1959-1975 are eight women, all nurses (seven Army and one Air Force); 151 Medal of Honor recipients; 16 chaplains (eight Catholic, seven protestants and two Jewish); 120 persons from other countries other than the U.S. There were 140 men and women from Northeast Arkansas.

LTC Jim Keller, USAF, retired, gave the benediction and Dennis Lockhart and Mike Nuckles played Echo Taps.

Names of young men from the Buffalo Island area listed on the wall include:

Everett Eugene Langston of Leachville; Carl Jerome Miller, Garvin Wayne Dill, and Samuel Lee Modesitt, Manila; Junior Mask, Monette; and Larry Gene Moody, Dell.

Langston served in the Army and was a PSGT. He died on April 11, 1966. He was 26 years old.

Miller served in the Navy and was the rank of HM3. He died on Dec. 8, 1968 at the age of 22.

Dill served in the selective service Army and was the rank of sergeant. He died on May 25, 1970, at the age of 21.

Modesitt was an E5 in the Army. He died at the age of 25 on June 17, 1967.

Mask was a SFC in the Army. He died on May 4, 1968, at the age of 24.

Moody was 1Lt. in the Army Reserve. He died at the age of 24 on July 8, 1965.

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