Tears and pride as Traveling Vietnam Wall returns
It's called the Wall that Heals, but it's just as much the wall that makes grown men cry.
And, surely, almost everybody who lays eyes on the half-scale structure of the iconic Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington.
Some see it in the historical perspective, others philosophically, but for many it is intensely personal.
"A lot of people on the side of the road get you choked up when you're riding and you see all the flags on the wall," said John Perry, a vet out from Fort Myers who – along with the Vietnam Brotherhood and Special Forces Motorcycle Club – escorted the semi carrying the wall to Marco.
Gail Menkes was at the opening ceremony, and during the proceedings she knelt down, found a name and took a smartphone photo of it.
Gean Clapper was the name on which she focused.
"When I was young, like a lot of others, I wore a bracelet that had a (service men or women's) name on it," she said. "He was a POW. After the war, I had no idea what happened to him, but I went to the Wall in Washington, and I found him. I'm sure he was a really nice guy."
Menkes said viewing the traveling wall was just as moving as visiting the Washington icon, which is the better-known part of a whole that also consists of the Three Soldiers statue and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.
And the bracelet? Still safe in Menkes' possession.
Cathy Erpenbeck paused when she spotted the name Ronald Silbersack, and put her finger on his name.
It was her brother, and he didn't make it home.
"I had another brother there who did," she said, "but he had some difficulty in adjusting."
Erpenbeck said she'd also seen the "big wall," and also the traveling wall when it made a visit to her home state of Kentucky.
The walls carry 58,272 names, including those of eight women. More than 1,000 of them are listed as MIA or POW.
See more photos in the Thursday, Feb. 19, Sun Times print edition.