The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall arrived at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center early Sunday afternoon with the tractor-trailer delivering it escorted by what Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley said was more than 1,000 motorcycles.
Jolley served as the traffic manager for the event that brought the replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington to the museum. There is a a five-year agreement with Dignity Memorial to display the 48 panels on a two-acre site on the east side of the building.
Jolley called the organizing of the motorcyclists a “labor of love.”
Asked why he thought so many riders from several states had participated, Jolley replied, “This is history in the making. There is nothing more American than this.”.
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Many of the riders, he said, had already made history by serving in the military.
The display, a black faux-granite wall, features the names of more than 58,000 men and women in the military who died or were declared missing in Vietnam. The 17-mile ride from the Georgia Visitor Information Center on Williams Road to the museum was a sad one for William Havalotti.
The Marine veteran, who served from 1972-1978, has driven the display around the country for four years.
“I have been proud to carry my brothers around,” he said.
He has watched as veterans as well as friends and family members of those on the wall approached it.
“I have seen a lot of healing,” he said.
He remembered an incident in California where a Vietnam veteran just stared at the wall from a distance for hours
“He had to work up the courage to go closer and touch it. He eventually did,” said Havalotti, who helps with the setting up of the display.
The motorcycle escort was set up by the Columbus Association of Motorcyclists.
One of the riders was P.J. Hamilton known to cyclists as “Mr. Big Stuff.” He rides with the Columbus Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers.
“If there is a community event, especially anything to do with the military, we want to be a part of it,” said Hamilton, who served more than two years in Vietnam.
He said he felt “nothing but proud,” to be part of the special event.
Greg Camp, executive vice president of the National Infantry Museum, told those gathered that he was “thankful for the incredible show of patriotism.”