National Infantry Museum welcomes replica of the Vietnam Wall

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 19, 2014 

After traveling to more than 200 cities since 1990, the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall has found a temporary home at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.

Ben Williams, president and chief operating officer of the National Infantry Foundation, said a five-year agreement has been approved with Dignity Memorial, the Houston, Texas-based funeral, cremation and cemetery service provider that commissioned the creation of the wall.

"We started working with them a year ago, saying if you ever want to retire it or put it on loan somewhere on a permanent basis, we want you to consider us," Williams said Wednesday. "That led to a discussion and we got an agreement with them. It will be here for five years."

The black faux-granite wall has the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and servicewomen who died or were declared missing in Vietnam. It is a three-fourths scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Dedication of the wall is set for March 21 with retired Col. Jack Jacobs, the recipient of the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam.

The wall, which was at the Infantry Museum in 2010, will be located along Heritage Walk where pavers and flags line the walkway, said Cyndy Cerbin, director of communications for the foundation.

"We kind of built it into an existing bank that's there so that it will be very similar to the actual wall in Washington," she said. "It is built into the side of a hill in Washington."

The wall is eight feet high and 240 feet long. In its reflective surface, visitors looking at the names on the wall also will see their reflection to symbolically bring together the past and present. It also connects faces with names.

To prepare for the wall exhibit and its maintenance costs, Williams said, the foundation is trying to raise funds.

"We are attempting to raise a million dollars to have it here and we've been out raising money," Williams said. "We have not reached our goal yet."

The infrastructure for the wall is almost complete with the sidewalk and landscaping. A nearly two-acre site was graded on the east side of the museum for the wall.

At the end of the five-year stay at the museum, Cerbin said, there is a possibility the exhibit may stay longer.

"Dignity Memorial just wanted to leave it a little bit open-ended," she said. "We hope that it's going to have a permanent placement here. We have built the structure to contain it. The infrastructure is there to contain it,"

On March 20, the day before the dedication, there will be a symposium with a panel discussion with four Vietnam-era prisoners of war and four Medal of Honor recipients.

Other guests include Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning; Joe Galloway, journalist and co-author of the book "We Were Soldiers Once … and Young"; and Alvin Townley, author of "Defiant."

Seating is limited for the symposium. Registration opens today at www.nationalinfantrymuseum.org/vietnam-memorial.

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