The Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall arrived on Marco Island before noon, Tuesday, December 6, 2011 escorted by hundreds of proud motorcyclists, Collier County Sheriff’s deputies, Florida Highway Patrol officers and police officers.
They were honoring fallen heroes of a war which did not receive the kind of unconditional, unwavering support which sustained the fighting forces of World War II. Lee Rubenstein, Chairman of the Traveling Wall Committee that brought the Wall to Marco Island said, “If one person comes here and can let go and is relieved, it’s well worth it.”
In an opening ceremony, guest speaker Doug Hartman, who did two tours in Vietnam, spoke on why the wall was built and why it is important to us today. “I had the privilege of working with Jan Scruggs, John Wheeler and a small group of others who started the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial organization in Washington, D.C. in the early 1980’s. The overriding concern of this group – all Vietnam veterans – most of whom had returned to their homes and positions in society, was that these fallen warriors listed out there were as good and brave as the members of the Greatest Generation or any other preceding generation.
However, at that time they appeared to be destined to go down in history as unappreciated, even reviled, victims of their own government’s misdirected policies. A footnote to an unpopular war.
They would rapidly become forgotten abstractions—nonpersons—like the names on so many of our civil war monuments across this land.
We sought a way to bring them the honor they deserved and to make their sacrifices meaningful by showing that 58,922 is not a just a statistic, but rather an aggregation of real human lives – lives ended prematurely, but lives with the same potential as you and me. These were the men with the personal honor and sense of dignity to answer the call of their country when it came. They deserved more. Their families, who bore the heaviest burden by offering up the lives of their sons and daughters, deserved more.
They were called to fight in an unpopular and misunderstood war. Yet, a war, that with the perspective of 40 years passage of time, is considered by many historians as probably both unavoidable and necessary.
It is difficult to measure the pain imposed on those who returned and on the families of those who did not –when told their sacrifice was morally wrong. That they had gone off to fight in the wrong war, in the wrong place and for the wrong reasons.
We owe them a public apology. More important, we owe their families an apology and a “Thank You.””
It was an emotional exhibit for many. The names of 2000 fallen soldiers from the state of Florida were read over the days the Wall was on exhibit, along with the names of other lost soldiers as requested by their family and friends. It was a healing experience for some, but an educational experience for others as well.
Marco Island Charter Middle School Principal George Abounader said his students “are creating bio cards on soldiers whom they selected from the Wall and researched in recognition of their service to our country.” The entire sixth grade class walked from the school to visit the Wall. There they spent time with retired Lt. Colonel Ray Rosenberg, and Lee Rubenstein, as well as their own teacher, Joe Jarrett, each a Vietnam Veteran. The children were intrigued to hear about their experiences and the three fielded a variety of questions from the students. The students then searched for the names they had researched.
Older students at the Marco Island Academy heard from retired Lt. Colonel William Howey. After 32 years in the Marines, Bill spent another 15 as a high school teacher. Bill stated. “I lived three miles away from the Wall when it was opened in Washington, DC. It took me six months to get the courage to go up and take a look at it. Once there, I broke down crying uncontrollably.” The captivated students heard about his time in Vietnam, the CIA and the Secret Service. They too asked a variety of hard hitting questions in their quest to understand the history behind the Wall.
The Vietnam Traveling Wall was brought to the island by the Vietnam Traveling Wall Committee. It took an army of over 250 volunteers to man the exhibit. These volunteers were organized by Ray Rosenberg, a phenomenal feat in itself. By the time TAPS was played signifying the end of the exhibit, more than 6000 people had come to see it. Some came to learn, some came to share, some came to experience. Many shed tears. The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall lived up to its name, “The Wall that Heals.”
If you weren’t able to attend the exhibit, Vickie Kelber, a Wall Committee member, offers a video compilation of photos which can be viewed at vimeo. com/33468197. Hughes Productions will be offering a DVD format presentation which can be viewed at vimeo.com/channels/244615
The exhibit was underwritten by IberiaBank, Naples Town Hall, The Arlington, Dignity Memorial Hodges-Josberger Funeral Home and Vitas Innovative Hospice Care. Other sponsors include Affordable Golf Carts, Bald Eagle 7-Eleven, Coastal Breeze News, Condee Cooling and Electric, Costco, Custom Signs of Marco, Gem Electric Cars, Gene’s 5th Avenue Florist, Greater Marco Family YMCA, Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa, Lowe’s Home Improvement, McDonald’s, Marco Eagle, Marco Movies, Marco Island Sun Times, William G. Morris, Esq., Naples Daily News, Sunshine Stitchers and Walgreens.