August 20, 2014

Traveling Vietnam Wall to educate, honor and heal

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Next month’s Traveling Vietnam Wall exhibit and related activities at SIU Carbondale will present opportunities for learning, for healing, and for honoring those lost in the war. 

The traveling wall, an 80 percent-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will arrive in Carbondale on Sept. 10. The opening ceremony is set for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 with keynote speaker Major General (ret.) Randal E. Thomas, chair of the SIU Board of Trustees.

Thomas received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for valor for his 1968-69 combat service in Vietnam. From 2003 to 2007, he served as the adjutant general of Illinois, the highest National Guard post in the state. 

Sponsors of the exhibit and related events include SIU Carbondale, Shawnee Detachment 812 of the Marine Corps League, Southeast Missouri State University, businesses, other veterans organizations and individuals. Among the many activities on the schedule will be the football Salukis’ annual military appreciation game against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 13. 

The wall, which will be open to the public 24 hours a day until the exhibit closes on Sept. 14, will be located on the practice football field south of Saluki Stadium. At 360-feet long, it is the largest replica of the memorial. It is built of lightweight aluminum panels and includes all 58,300 names that appear on the wall in Washington -- including 148 service members from Southern Illinois. Visitors may do tracings of names, according to Mark “Skip” Cosgrove, chair of the planning committee and senior vice commandant and trustee of Shawnee Detachment 812. 

Cosgrove, a retired university employee and Vietnam veteran, said the planning committee has been working with regional superintendents of schools and teachers to create learning opportunities for students. Thirteen middle and high schools are planning field trips, he said, noting that a Du Quoin school plans to bring seven busses to the exhibit. 

“The wall and related exhibits and activities will help all visitors honor those who were lost in the war,” Cosgrove said. “All of this also will serve as a belated welcome home to veterans.” 

Organizers also hope the wall serves as a healing experience for veterans. 

“We want this to be a cathartic experience for the Vietnam veterans and their families who cannot travel to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We hope that this will help some of those who have had issues over the past 50 years come to terms with their experiences. If even one veteran is able to come to grips with their anxiety, this will be a success.” 

Paul Copeland, coordinator of Veterans Services at the university and a veteran himself, has chaired the volunteer subcommittee in an effort to provide opportunities for campus veterans to participate in the event. 

“There are volunteer opportunities associated with setup, helping visitors appreciate the display and locate specific names on the wall, security, honor watch, ceremonies, and tear-down and clean-up,” he said. “I believe any veteran would be missing an important opportunity to serve others, as well as themselves, if they don’t at least participate in one of the retreat ceremonies.”