Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: National Infantry Museum perfect resting place for replica Vietnam memorial wall

March 14, 2014 

We now have a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall here in Columbus, and I can't think of a better place for it.

Traveling replicas of the initially controversial and ultimately beloved monument have visited more than 1,000 American hometowns since not long after the original was dedicated in Washington, D.C., in 1982.

It started with The Moving Wall, which spawned The Wall That Heals, The Traveling Wall, The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall and the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall.

That last wall, created by the funeral home and cemetery provider, has returned to the National Infantry Museum after a two-week appearance in 2010. It will rest on a permanent plaza between the parking lot and the parade field and will stay there for at least five years, according to museum staff.

Earlier this week, I watched workmen fasten the 48 fiberglass panels into place. The ¾-scale wall reflects images like the real deal, and each name is etched and can be rubbed onto paper with a pencil.

So why does it make sense to have a replica wall at the Infantry Museum?

That's easy. About one out of every three names on that wall belongs to an 11 Bravo.

You know, an infantryman.

And you know where U.S. infantrymen get their training: Fort Benning.

Vietnam was the ultimate test of this training. While the World War II infantryman in the South Pacific encountered an average of 40 days of combat in four years, according to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, the Vietnam infantryman faced 240 days of combat in a single year, thanks to the newfound mobility provided by helicopters.

Everyone who fought in Vietnam has a story to tell. For those who gave their lives there, the wall tells their stories for them.

Just go to www.thewall-usa.com and enter a name or a hometown.

I type in my hometown, LaFayette, Ala., and discover that just one of its residents died in Vietnam. He was Roy Edward Thomas, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne who'd enlisted at the age of 19 and died at the age of 25, of small arms fire.

Growing up, I never heard of Sgt. Thomas. I should have. His name is on Panel 5-E, line 8.

He had a daughter named Linda, who left this message on the website on Father's Day 2008:

"Going to LaFayette this week to visit with you. Mamma is going with me to put new flowers on your grave… Jarred my son your grandson favors you I think - I only have pictures. Mamma says you were a charmer and marched to the beat of your own drum and that fits him. Always love you."

You should go to the museum to see the wall and read some of the names. On Friday, there's a graduation of new infantry soldiers at 10 a.m. on the parade field, followed by a dedication on the new Vietnam Memorial Plaza.

All local Vietnam veterans are encouraged to attend.

Speakers include Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence; ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey; and ret. Col. Jack Jacobs, a Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

Veterans will lay a wreath on the wall, and there will be a 21-gun salute and the sad sound of taps.

If you go, you can thank a Vietnam veteran, and you can scan the names on the wall.

It's in the right place.

Contact Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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