COTTONWOOD -- A replica of the epic Vietnam War Memorial in Washington is coming to the Verde Valley March 27-31. Contributors and volunteers from throughout the Valley have worked for nine months to allow the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Wall to be mounted in Cottonwood and be available for visitors for five days in late March.
For many of the families of the 58,220 American soldiers killed in the conflict and another 303,000 who were wounded, seeing the wall will be something of a "coming home." You can put your fingers on the etched names of the lost veterans, just like you can at Washington. There is likely to be grief and sadness. It's natural.
The City of Cottonwood is the official sponsor of the traveling wall project. Ron Luce, himself a Vietnam Veteran who is coordinating the visit, says the traveling wall pays tribute to all veterans who served in Vietnam and their families. Members of all veteran's organizations are part of this tribute, donating their labor as volunteers or their wealth as part of a contribution to the cost of the event.
In 2011, Congress declared March 30 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. Sedona veterans initiated the activity, hosted the first Verde Valley event last year. Agreeing that the venue would rotate, Cottonwood agreed to be the 2013 host.
Luce said the germ of the idea originated from Jim McMeekin, a Reservist, who suggested five years ago that the traveling wall should be brought to the Verde Valley.
Luce said he remembered that idea when folks were talking about how to make this year's remembrance special. "We began planning in April of last year," investigating the five traveling wall programs and settling on the American Veterans Traveling Tribute replica. He says it was the closest to the full size of the memorial.
The planning organization began to raise the funds in September. The cost for the Wall to visit for the week is $6,000. A letter was sent out signed by Mayor Diane Joens. Luce says the effort has led to generous response and support from throughout the Verde. In addition to the city, the VFW post, American Legion, the Moose Lodge, Cottonwood Chamber, Westcott Funeral and Walmart and numerous individuals like McMeekin and business contributed, several anonymously.
Another 50 people have volunteered their time and skills to help make the event a success.
The truck and wall comes with one driver. So many people are needed to unload the panels and lay out the rails and anchor them in place.
The traveling wall that will visit Cottonwood is an 80 percent replica of the granite memorial at Washington, D.C.
Luce says a site surveyor visited Cottonwood to prepare for the Wall, "He told us that he thought it was a good site, since it was so level."
The Wall will be mounted on the Cottonwood Middle School playing field, facing the permanent seating.
The traveling panels are made of aluminum and each weight 80 pounds. Once erected, the wall stretches 360 feet long.
"We were told we would need 15 to 20 volunteers but Clarkdale Metals has also offered to help, along with the ROTC from Embry-Riddle University.
A schedule of events has now been agreed upon.
The truck carrying the Wall will arrive in Camp Verde, where it will be joined and will be accompanied by Patriot Guard motorcycle riders, who will escort the truck to the Cottonwood Middle School, where a reception will greet it.
On Thursday, volunteers will arrive to set up the Wall beginning at 7 a.m. with a formal opening at noon.
The colors will be posted followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and then the laying of the wreath by the POW/MIA and Gold Star Mothers, who have lost a child in service and finally, the Wall will be blessed.
At the end of the day, the colors will be retired followed by Taps.
Similar formalities will start and end each day with the VFW, Marine Corps League, American Legion and Cottonwood CAP rotating responsibilities. A special Ride of Honor is scheduled Saturday morning. Michael Ferguson, Cdr. of the Dept. of Arizona Veterans of Foreign Wars will be the Guest of Honor. Senator John McCain has also been invited to represent POW/MIAs. "We were also trying to attract a Medal of Honor winner, but he has been invited to Washington," Luce notes.
A computer system will help visitors identify where to look on the wall for names of loved ones and friends.
"We understand that seeing names of those friends who have fallen can be emotional," said Luce, who has visited a traveling wall placement four times. He says, the VA van will be on hand and there will be people who can help with counseling if necessary.
Beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, motorcycle riders will leave Red Rock High School in Sedona for a run through the Village of Oak Creek and Camp Verde through Clarkdale, returning to Cottonwood Kids Park where a celebration is planned beginning at 1 p.m. separate from the more somber memorial.
There is no cost to visit the Wall, but memorial luminarias will be sold at the site Saturday evening. That sale will be used to help to defray the cost of next year's Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans activities.
Following ceremonies at the Wall and a Sunday church service, closing ceremonies will be held and the Wall will be disassembled and packed for shipment to the next community.
The wall will be available for visitation 24 hours each day. Four guards will be on hand to protect the wall and keep visitors separate from the school facility during class time.
Posted: Friday, March 1, 2013
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As a member of the POW*MIA Associations, Patriot Guard Riders, American Legion Riders of Idaho I want say that I personally have had the honor to see this moving wall tribute. It was something I will never forget. Freedom is not free and thank you just isn't enough for the sacrifices made for the freedoms I have today. I am forever in debit to the many heros and their loved ones.