In their words
VIETNAM WALL MEMORIAL
- VIDEO: In their words
- VIDEO: Visiting the Vietnam Wall
- VIDEO: Building The Wall
- PHOTOS: Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall's closing ceremony
- PHOTOS: Dignity Vietnam Wall Memorial Opening - Friday
- PHOTOS: Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall - Thursday
- PHOTOS: Assembling the Vietnam Wall
- PHOTOS: Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall coming to Naples
- STORIES: Read stories about the traveling Vietnam Wall Memorial
NAPLES — A group of men clad in green fatigues moves slowly, rifles in hand, across the Naples Memorial Funeral Home lawn.
Those watching are transported back four decades, tromping through the soggy underbrush of the North Vietnam landscape with the men, all members of the nonprofit group Last Patrol.
They are not re-enactors, said Air Force Sgt. Ted Marshall, but the people who performed the actual missions recaptured by the group. They were the highlight Sunday evening of the closing ceremony for the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“We are all veterans,” said Marshall, a member of the Air Force canine unit. “We are doing the job we did in Vietnam.”
The men who now take part in the last patrol were charged with going behind enemy lines to recover prisoners of war and those missing in action.
“You will never be forgotten,” said Carolyn Marshall over a loudspeaker as the men made their slow progress, led by Ted Marshall, her husband.
Heads bowed as the nine men stopped, gathering around a rifle and helmet to honor a fallen soldier.
It was an exercise in mass catharsis, bringing closure to a weekend spent honoring the dead, the wounded, the lost. Scores of people gathered in spite of the dreary weather to pay final respects at the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, which was escorted into town and assembled Sept. 24, open around the clock until the closing ceremony Sunday evening.
As the 7 p.m., ceremony drew near, people traced names on the wall, wet with rain and tears. A few stragglers used pencils to rub impressions of names onto paper, capturing a small piece of their lost loved ones.
“These are not just names,” reminded the Rev. Ron Patterson during an opening prayer. “These are the 58,260 stories of what might have been.”
At the end of their trek, as the light filtered through gray and pink clouds, the nine men stepped toward the wall. Some crouched in reflection, others stared plaintively at the names ahead of them, before saluting and walking away.
Finally, Bob McDonald bugled the melancholy strain of taps over the rapt crowd, as some shed tears and others stood at attention. McDonald, 84, was a sergeant in the Army Air Force during World War II.
He only knew a few people who served in Vietnam.
“That’s a younger generation,” he said.
But the veteran with lungs of steel said he jumps at any opportunity to honor his fellow servicemen.
“I’m glad to do it,” he said. “Because if it weren’t for the veterans, we wouldn’t have a free country.”
The wall, a faux-granite, three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, came to Naples from Boulder, Colo. Its next stop is in Lake Charles, La., from Oct. 10 through 12.