A traveling memorial that pays tribute to those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War arrived at San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Thursday. Known as “The Wall That Heals,” it is a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and includes the names of more than 58,000 service members who perished in the line of duty.
“The Wall That Heals” rises in a chevron shape like the original, and stands 7.5 feet at its apex. Visitors can do rubbings of service members’ names and explore the accompanying mobile education center.
A crowd of veterans and their families braved chilly temperatures and light rain to attend the wall’s opening ceremony.
Vietnam veteran John Baines attended the dedication of the D.C. memorial in 1982. He said he was struck by the enormity of the experience, and the power of stories cut short.
“I was extremely fortunate when I came home from Vietnam,” he said. “My body and my mind were intact. As proud as I was of my service, I hung up my uniform and put the war behind me.”
For a time, Baines thought his experiences in Southeast Asia were safely in the past. But when he saw the black granite wall, an ocean of names, it all came back.
“I was overcome by an avalanche of emotions, emotions that had festered for over ten years,” he explained. “There are 58,318 names etched on the wall. There is a human interest story behind each and every one of them. Who were they? Where were they from? Who were the family members they left behind?”
Joy Collins, regent of the Alamo Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, worked to bring the wall replica to San Antonio. She spoke about the value of survivors telling their stories and navigating painful memories.
"Our hope is you will use this opportunity to find your own way to deal with your grief,” she said. “Your past, your family and your future. Bring your grandchildren, your friends, your neighbors, so that you can tell them your story. We want you to tell it your way."
Visitors will be able to visit the replica 24 hours a day until it closes at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 3rd.
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery is the first stop on the memorial's 2019 tour, which includes 34 cities.
Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.