Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Returns to Marco Island

DON MANLEY
Greta Uckerle of Marco Island visits the traveling Vietnam wall, "The Wall that Heals," just after the official opening to the public in 2011.

Also known as "The Wall that Heals," the half-scale replica of the revered Washington D.C., monument the Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial will occupy the city's Veterans Memorial Community Park through Monday, Feb. 16.

This will be the only Southwest Florida stop for the wall, which tours the country, honoring the fallen and raising funds for the planned Education Center at the wall in the nation's capitol. The Education Center will educate future generations and honor America's legacy of service, including those serving in America's Armed Forces today.

Marco is the smallest community on the 24-city, 2015 tour schedule. More than 15,000 people paid their respects at The Traveling Wall during its 2011 visit to the island.

"To be chosen twice in five years to host the Wall says a lot for the generosity of our community and I am proud to say that over 200 residents have signed up to volunteer," said Lee Rubenstein, chairman of Marco's The Wall That Heals Committee. Rubenstein is commander of the event's sponsor, American Legion Post 404, on Marco.

Like the original Vietnam Memorial, the 250-foot long traveling wall is erected in a chevron-shape and contains the names of the 58,300 American service men and woman who perished in the conflict.

The exterior sides of the trailer that transports the exhibit open into a mobile education center that tells the story of the war, the wall and the era. A computerized information center allows visitors to search for data about the service members whose names are on the memorial.

Over the course of the five-day exhibit, volunteers will read the names of the 1,954 Floridians killed in Vietnam.

As in 2011, hundreds of motorcyclists, most of them veterans, will escort The Wall as it travels to the island from Ft. Myers on I-75. An opening ceremony will be held Feb. 12. The event will be highlighted by speeches by local dignitaries and Capt. Wayne Smith of Naples, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who survived five years at the Hanoi Hilton POW camp, where U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, was also held.

The opening ceremony will also include the dedication of the Freedom Fountain, the crown jewel of the island's Veterans Memorial. Freedom Fountain is currently under construction at the park.

Visitors are not charged to tour The Wall and the traveling Education Center. However, donations will be accepted for the planned Education Center at The Wall in Washington.

More than 200 volunteers are needed to staff the wall during its visit. They will handle such tasks as exhibition set up and tear down, visitor assistance, traffic control, transportation and other important duties. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Ray Rosenberg at rrosenberg@flwg.com.

The estimated cost to bring The Wall to Marco is $20,000 and donations are still being sought to cover this expense. To contribute, contact Leo Sutera at lsbsmarco@aol.com.

For more information, contact Lee Rubenstein at marcoump@aol.com.