KFP: Vietnam vets, public turn out for The Wall that Heals opening

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Speakers at Thursday’s opening ceremonies for The Wall that Heals pay respect to the American flag during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner. From left, the speakers are Col. Joe Tyson; George H. Schryer, USAF Retired; Margaret Wade; Col. Patricia S. Blassie, USAF Reserve; Hon. Paul Jones; Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy; David Hamel, N.C. State POW/MIA; and Roland Jack, VVA Chapter 892.
Charles Buchanan / The Free Press

by Justin Hill
Kinston Free Press

In an attempt to suppress a rush of emotions, a Vietnam War veteran stood up and walked to the back of the crowd as veteran Eric Cantu, dressed in combat fatigues, kneeled at a field cross.

Emotions overwhelmed the veterans, friends, family and community at Emma Webb Park Thursday morning as they remembered the 58,272 honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The Wall that Heals officially opened at the park during an hour-long ceremony

 “Tears came, but I survived it,” another veteran said as he walked towards the wall.

The traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Museum is a replica of the monument in Washington, D.C. The memorial, which is 50 percent the size of the original, arrived in Kinston on Tuesday.

Robin Goodman, whose father, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Owens, went missing in Vietnam, explained the significance of the wall and its symbols during the ceremony. Diamonds on the monument recognize the serviceman or servicewoman as deceased and a cross signifies if that hero is still missing.

“For each of these crosses, there is a family that waits and hopes,” she said.

Goodman added that of the 2.7 million heroes, more than 2 percent did not return home alive.

Recognized on the memorial are 1,609 names from North Carolina, including one of the eight women listed. Twenty-two are from Lenoir County, three from Greene County and two are from Jones.

As Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy told the audience about his experiences at the wall in Washington, a B-52 flyover briefly interrupted him.

“Sounded like freedom to me,” he said over the applause of the crowd.

Murphy added he had visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington numerous times and was with Cantu — who helped bring the traveling wall to Kinston — the first time he visited it.

“I saw his transformation,” Murphy said of Cantu. “He seemed released from the bondage of a soldier’s dreary heart. It is fitting that he helped bring Kinston The Wall that Heals.”

The wall will be open 24 hours a day while it is on display at the park. Organizers believe many veterans will visit the traveling wall at night as a way to remember their fallen comrades in a more private setting.

Along with the recognition of the area veterans listed on the wall, a 21-gun salute also marked the day.

Betty Wilcox from Kinston visited the wall after the ceremony. She was looking for two friends — Dempsey Parrott and Wilson Ham — who are memorialized on the wall.

Although she has visited the memorial in Washington, she was grateful for the opportunity The Wall that Heals offers people in the area.

“I appreciate the wall being here,” she said. “I think it will be a healing process for a lot of individuals and families as well.”

The wall will remain in Kinston over the weekend. A closing ceremony will be at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

A POW/MIA rememberance ceremony will take place today at 7 p.m. at the wall.

Justin Hill can be reached at 252-559-1078 or jhill@freedomenc.com. Follow him on Twitter @mjhill.

Breakout:

Schedule of events

Today:

7 p.m.: POW / MIA candlelight service

Sunday:

4 p.m.: Closing memorial service

For more information on the traveling Vietnam wall, call Eric Cantu at 252-560-8031 or email cantuveteran@yahoo.com.

Note: Contributions can be sent to Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 892 at PO Box 5195, Kinston, NC 28503. Checks should be made out to ‘VVA 892.’ Contributions will help defray local costs of bringing the wall to Kinston.