The Wall That Heals to be assembled today at Columbus Public Library

benw@ledger-enquirer.comApril 3, 2013 

Aurora Ellis, who at age 3 lost her father in Vietnam, was among an estimated 200 motorcycle riders escorting The Wall That Heals to the Columbus Public Library on Tuesday.

"It felt like a tribute to bring my father's name to Columbus where I live and reside," Ellis said.

She and other riders joined the escort in LaGrange, Ga., and followed the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial more than 40 miles to Columbus. The display is the culminating event for The Big Read, a program that encourages the community to read in a month-long series of events. The program recently featured Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried."

The wall will be assembled at 9 a.m. today, April 3, on the front lawn of the library. A ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 4, for the wall that leaves Columbus at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 7.

Ellis, a native of Santa Maria, Calif., and who served in the Army as a military police, said she has visited the wall twice in Washington, and found it to be comforting. "I was looking for the memorial and felt it before I got to it," she said. "It's not difficult. It's comforting, knowing he is not forgotten."

Ray Eckel, who retired from the Army after 20 years and served with the Columbus Police Department, said it's difficult every time he visits the wall. He knows more than 100 soldiers who didn't come home while he served as a dog handler and scout in a platoon.

"Every day I have tried to do something for them," Eckel said. "If nothing else, I think about them and look up. 'Brother, I wish you were here.' I have a life, I have children and family and they don't."

Eckel was with the 1st Cavalry Brigade (Airborne) when he lost his 19-year-old friend from Illinois during the Tet Offensive as the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were overrunning U.S. positions in 1968.

"I was with him when he died," Eckel said. "His head was blown off in my lap. I never told the parents that. It was a mortar attack."

The wall has many memories for Eckel, making him feel good and sad at the same time. "It makes my heart heavy, and I have to walk away because of the tears," said Eckel.

The wall is a way to keep the memories alive of what military men and women are doing for America, said attorney Shevon S. Thomas, a member of the Columbus chapter of Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club. Thomas was in Desert Storm where he received a Bronze Star. He served with the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division.

"This is what it's all about, trying to preserve the memory," he said. "If we can remind America that we have men and women in uniform still fighting, we need to do whatever we can to preserve that memory for veterans."

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