HUNTSVILLE, Ala - A replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. has made it's way to Huntsville. Tuesday, The Wall That Heals was given a police escort as it was moved to John Hunt Park where it will be on display later this week.
A light breeze blew through town, the sun was peaking through the tree line, construction crews were hard at work. It may have seemed like a normal fall day in Huntsville, but not for these veterans. "It's a highly decorated honor for Americans especially the Vietnam War era," said TC Dawson, a Vietnam veteran.
Police and area veterans escorted the replica of the memorial to John Hunt Park. A flag-raising ceremony wrapped up what many veterans feel was an honor ride.
"There 58,318 people on that wall, as a matter of fact, I have two family members on that wall," said Charlie Miller, President of Vietnam Veterans Association of America Chapter 1067.
Many people in Huntsville have ties to the people whose names are on the wall. The three-quarter replica is named The Wall That Heals and he hopes it can do just that.
"There are about 75,000 people that came from Vietnam with severe handicap problems, illnesses from the war, agent orange, heart diseases, PTSD," said Miller. "So what we want to do is ensure that they have some type of healing that they know that their efforts were not in vain."
This is the second time the wall has come to Huntsville. Miller says the last time it was in town was 20 years ago.
"There's a lot of people who won't get the chance to go to Washington to see the wall," said Dawson. Veterans say they are happy another generation of Alabamians will have the opportunity to see it.
The wall still needs to be assembled. A crew of volunteers will put it together Wednesday. The wall will be on display November 1st through 4th and will be open 24 hours a day.
One Veteran's Story
Many veterans accompanied police while the wall was escorted to John Hunt Park, including TC Dawson. He almost lost his life one night fighting in Vietnam. The anniversary of that fateful evening is occurring while The Wall That Heals is in Huntsville. He plans to practice his gratitude that day this year in a very special way.
"I was over there in 1970. I got there the 22nd of January of '70 and left December 13th of '70," explained Dawson.
Dawson was flying recon missions on Halloween night, 48 years ago, when one of the engines malfunctioned 7000 feet in the air.
"We started hollering, 'Mayday, mayday! We're going down,'" remembered Dawson. They were falling 1000 feet a minute straight into enemy territory.
"When this mission is over with, I was in on way to Saigon to catch a plane to Hawaii to see my 2-month-old baby for the first time."
Fearing his life was ending his thoughts turned to one just beginning. "And when we lost that engine and we were going down I didn't think I'd ever see my girl, and we found an abandoned airfield, and we landed."
He says he feels lucky his name is not on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
"I've got several good friends on that wall and what an honor," he paused, overcome with emotion. "To be able to ride my motorcycle, fly their flag, and lead the wall."
On the anniversary of the night he almost lost his life and his future with his family, he will be guarding the wall, guarding his friends and guarding the names of people he calls the real heroes.