by David Anderson
Kinston Free Press
Local residents are encouraged to visit downtown Kinston on Tuesday afternoon to welcome the Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall as it is transported along Queen Street with a motorcycle escort.
“It’s the most historical war memorabilia that has ever been in the city of Kinston, and it will transcend every acknowledgeable war experience,” said Eric Cantu, president of VFW Post 2771.
Cantu, a Vietnam War veteran himself, is coordinating the wall’s arrival and six-day stay at Emma Webb Park in Kinston, plus the accompanying community events.
The traveling wall is a miniature version of the permanent Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. It will be escorted in a tractor-trailer truck from Greenwood, S.C., up Interstate 95 through Fayetteville to Goldsboro, and from there to Kinston.
A number of national motorcycle groups, including the Patriot Guard, American Legion Riders, Rolling Thunder, ‘Nam Knights, Veterans Motorcycle Club and many more, will provide the escort along the route, Cantu said.
The wall is scheduled to travel through downtown Kinston between 1 and 2 p.m. on Tuesday. Cantu encouraged residents to come out and wave American flags.
He said the ride will be dedicated to the late Ted Sampley, a Kinston native, Vietnam veteran, advocate for his fellow veterans, POWs and MIAs, and a past national vice president of Rolling Thunder.
The wall will be set up in the park Wednesday. An opening ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday, with Lenoir County Superior Court Judge Paul Jones, who is also a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, serving as emcee.
There will be a meet-and-greet from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Arts Council with retired U.S. Navy Capt. Eugene “Red” McDaniel, a Kinston native who survived for six years in the notorious North Vietnamese Hanoi Hilton prison.
He will be signing and selling copies of his book: “Scars and Stripes.” Proceeds go to the American Defense Institute, which advocates on behalf of POWs and MIAs from all wars.
U.S. Air Force Col. Patricia Blassie will also be in attendance. She is the sister of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, who was killed during Vietnam and buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sampley uncovered his identity in 1998, and Blassie’s remains have since been moved to a veterans’ cemetery in his hometown of St. Louis.
A candlelight ceremony will take place Friday at the wall in honor of the national POW/MIA remembrances happening across the nation that day.
Cantu also encouraged anyone in the community who has a photograph of a loved one killed during Vietnam to bring it to the wall while it is Kinston, where it will be scanned on-site for future placement in a planned national Vietnam education center in Washington.
The closing ceremony will take place Sunday, and the wall will depart for Swannanoa Monday morning.
While it is here, the wall will be open to the public 24 hours a day and under guard during that time.
“It is guarded 24 hours and it is lit 24 hours,” Cantu said.
Emma Webb Park suffered severe damage from Hurricane Irene late last month; the winds left massive trees toppled and broken, but Cantu said city staffers are working to get the park cleaned up in time for the wall’s arrival.
“The city has made an extremely good extra effort to make sure Emma Webb Park is ready for the wall, and it is safe and ready,” he said.
Mayor B.J. Murphy encouraged residents to visit the wall.
“Having been to the actual wall myself, several times, the wall really is a healing place,” he said. “A lot of young men and women lost their lives, or were captured and never found.”
Murphy continued: “My experience with the wall would be very different from the experience Eric Cantu had with the wall but to both of us, it is a symbol of our nation’s courage.”
David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or email@example.com.
For more information on the traveling Vietnam wall, call Eric Cantu at 252-560-8031 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.