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Tears streamed down Paul Summers’ face as he gazed at the names of the fallen Vietnam War veterans, some of whom he fought beside during his 15-month deployment in 1965 and 1966 when he was a private in the Army.
Mr. Summers, 69, of Oregon was one of hundreds, young and old alike, who gathered at International Park on Thursday to take in — or even help construct — a traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall. The wall is a smaller model of the memorial in Washington that lists 58,272 veterans killed or missing from the war.
“I couldn’t go to Washington for a long time,” he said, struggling to come up with words. “This is the first time that I’ve seen it.”
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Many in the crowd had visited the Washington version. But the smaller size of the model wall did not diminish its impact on Oregon resident and project volunteer Tammy Taylor.
“It’s still as emotional, because it’s not about the wall, it’s about what it symbolizes and who it represents,” she said.
Ms. Taylor’s father, Walt Tooke, 65, left Vietnam as a corporal after deployment in 1967 and 1968. Currently residing in the Tampa Bay area, he was in Toledo to visit his daughter, and viewed the traveling display.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Mr. Tooke said. “I don’t think enough people understand the consequences of war. This has got 58,000 names that tell you what the consequences are, not to mention the thousands that come out here that are wounded in mind.”
The wall near The Docks served as a sobering reminder of the war’s costs for many, as well as a history lesson for some.
Derek Bradley, 39, of Toledo brought his sons, Derek, 8, and Dylan, 7, to the display. Mr. Bradley was deployed in 1993 and 1994 to the Persian Gulf as a member of the Navy, and his father and uncle served in Vietnam.
“You’ve got to show them the importance of freedom,” he said.
The boys not only looked at the wall but actively participated in its construction, standing in line holding a piece of the display before it was ready to be attached. “It’s cool because we get to learn about our paw-paw and what he fought for,” Derek said.
Construction of the wall was supposed to be finished by noon Thursday, but was completed just before 1 p.m. Navy Lt. Haraz Ghanbari, military and media liaison at the University of Toledo and co-director of the Vietnam Era Veterans Appreciation Event, said some minor hiccups caused the delay, and getting the event right was more important than rushing it on time.
“This is an opportunity for [veterans] to come down here, put their fingers on the wall, feel the names of their battle buddies crest across the tip of their fingers,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for them to take a rubbing of the wall of that name and take that home. It’s an opportunity to have some closure and some healing. You can never rush an event like this.”
The wall will be on display through Sunday afternoon.
Friends Dick Corado, 80, and Ira Johnson, 81, also took in the display.
Neither had family serve in Vietnam, though Mr. Johnson served in the Korean War and both had family serve in World War II. But each still felt a personal connection to the men on the wall.
“The whole shame of this is that the people were so disgruntled with the war that they took it out on the soldiers that were there. ... Each one of those [names], they had a family, a mother, dad, sisters, brothers, grew up and went to school, buddies and all that,” Mr. Corado said. “They’re gone.”
Contact Sam Gans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6516.