Area volunteers help assemble traveling Vietnam Wall

Building The Wall

— Gene Heezen's cousin's name is on the wall.

Heezen isn't exactly sure where it is, but he knows it's there.

And on Wednesday morning he carried a photocopy of Cpl. Joseph R. Van De Hei's obituary to help him find it.

Heezen, 72, was one of several area residents who stood watching as residents from Collier and Lee counties assembled the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall on Wednesday morning. The traveling replica of the Vietnam Wall will be open to the public around the clock beginning Friday morning at the Naples Memorial Funeral Home and Cemetery, 525 111th Ave N.

"Every once in a while it chokes me up," said Cyndee Woolley, director of corporate communications for Professional Building Systems, the construction company charged with assembling the wall. "I'm awestruck that I could be part of this."

Hundreds of motorcycles escorted the wall into Collier County on Tuesday afternoon, and on Wednesday morning several of those men came out to help assemble it.

"It was really nice. I was proud to do it," said Ken McNeal, a engineer specialist with Bentley Village.

McNeal said several Bentley Village employees helped out Wednesday. His company wasn't the only one to allow employees to help. Embarq employee Chuck O'Donnell said his employer sent out an e-mail looking for volunteers. O'Donnell jumped at the opportunity to help.

"It sounded like a great thing to do," he said. "It's more of an honor than anything else."

While the exhibit officially opens Friday morning, Heezen couldn't wait. His daughter, who was in the Marines, was going to be in town for one night, and he wanted to make sure she was able to see it.

He said they planned to take a picture in front of the wall, and send it to his aunt, who lost her son in Vietnam.

"It is a breath taker," he said as pieces of the wall went up. "There's a sense of sadness, but (also) a proud sense of unity and appreciation."

That sense of unity is something Janet den Hartog, a spokeswoman for the Naples Memorial Funeral Home and Cemetery, hopes to convene during the exhibit.

"It's been amazing," den Hartog said. "Everyone's name is on it. (For some people) this is the only chance to see it."

The exhibit measures 240 feet long and is 8 feet tall, and den Hartog said all of the 58,260 names are on the wall.

About 1,200 of the names are listed as prisoners of war or missing in action. Three more names were added in 2007, according to the Vietnam Wall Memorial's official Web site.

"The wall was built ... to help people heal after death," den Hartog said about the traveling wall. "This is going to make more difference than anything I've done before."

© 2008 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 4

beetlejuice writes:

Thank you to Vietnam Vets who served our country, and thank you to those vets who lost their lives while protecting our freedom.

I look forward to seeing this wall here in Naples.

It doesn't look easy to assemble either.

blueblood writes:

DITTO. Except I'm not a liberal.

native_at_heart writes:

this wall came to Canton (Ohio) several years ago. My husband and I went to read names of friends and relatives. It takes your breath away and stops you in your tracks. Once you pull it together and move closer, the tears begin to flow. Such silence when your surrounded by a crowd is overwelming. Thank you from my heart and soul to all vets who sacrificed for me and my fellow Americans.

MarcoRobert writes:

I'm preparing for my visit to the "Wall" over the weekend. I have several names on the granite to visit, to cry and grieve for, to pray for their repose and for peace around the world.

The catharis I experienced during my visit to Washington D.C. was overwellming. I know there are many out there who want to visit, but feel they just can't (for many reasons). I will gladly escort any Vet, or widow, or Gold Star Mother, or child of a lost Vet who needs a strong shoulder to cry on and a soft hand to hold. This is wonderful opportunity for our entire community to come together and say "welcome home fallen heros", to pay our respects to uncommon valor, and to make sure our memories never die but live on through the hearts of others.

Don't pass this opportunity by, there are lots of us who are here to assist you so you don't have to do it alone. Call you local VFW, American Legion, AMVETS,POW-MIA organizations, Boy Scouts of America, or your church pastor or priest.

I am planning on visiting on Friday evening at sunset, and Sunday noon after mass. If you need me, I'm here for me at and we can set a time to go together. No one should suffer alone...reach out if you need a helping hand.

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