FAIRBANKS — The sounds of Taps, Amazing Grace and the rotating blades of a Huey helicopter concluded the reading of the names on Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park of 58,282 Americans killed during the Vietnam War. A replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., is spending the week at the downtown Fairbanks park.
Since Thursday, a group of 280 volunteers has been reading the names aloud. As the list concluded, visitors to the wall came together under light rain to hear a few words from veterans of the Vietnam War and a few contemporary military leaders.
“True remembrance comes not from granite slabs or bronze statues. It comes from the hearts of the members of a grateful nation,” said Col. Scott Sprenger, Commander of the 354th Medical Group at Eielson Air Force Base. “As we stand together here today, I ask you to reflect on the hard work of our service members past and present. I ask you to offer support as the physical and emotional wounds of war continue to heal.”
Before and after the ceremony, a steady stream of people came to pay their respects to the wall or to find the names of friends of family. Some left flowers or flags. The wall is organized chronologically, but volunteers in a tent next to the wall have records that can help visitors find names.
Retired Staff Sergeant Paul C. Taylor, who belatedly received a Silver Star this winter for his actions in Vietnam was particularly familiar with seven names on the wall. He spoke about the lives and the death of six men he fought with as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group as well as a seventh man he knew for months in training.
In addition to helping veterans and their family grieve and remember the dead, the Moving Wall has served another purpose. Several speakers said seeing and hearing the list of names has eased the antagonism between people who protested the Vietnam War and those who fought in it, even directing more recent anti-war sentiment to political leaders in place of service members.
“Times have changed and the focus is now changing to veterans of the most recent conflict who deserve and need support,” said Joseph N. Fields III chairman of the state of Alaska Veterans Advisory Council and a Vietnam War helicopter pilot.
“The Moving Wall has helped bridge the gap between veterans and their contemporaries who shunned them on their return.”
He said this likely will be the last formal tour the Moving Wall makes to Alaska. But it should be available in the future for groups that request it, he said.
The ceremony closed with a fly-over of a Bell Huey helicopter, a familiar sound for those who fought in Vietnam.
This morning at 9 another ceremony begins at Veterans Memorial Park to begin the reading of the names of the Americans killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The wall will remain in Fairbanks through Thursday.