Building The Wall
NAPLES — 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."