Around 8 a.m. Wednesday, some 60 volunteers started work at Carson Park assembling The Wall That Heals, a three-fourths-scale traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Some of the volunteers were Vietnam veterans. Others were veterans of more recent conflicts, like Operation Iraqi Freedom. A few were high school students, themselves too young to enlist, but older than the youngest of the 58,318 people — 15-year old Marine Dan Bullock — whose names are on the wall they helped assemble.
All left nearly four and a half hours later having accomplished something much larger than themselves.
“This is great,” said Paducah resident Mike Smith, who nearly lost his left leg serving in the Army in-country from 1968-71. “There’s quite a few guys on there I know. It’s great for the people who don’t get the opportunity to go to D.C. to see the actual wall.”
One high-schooler who helped was 17-year old Tre Wilson, a student at McCracken County High School’s “Open Campus.”
“I like to give back, so this is my way of volunteering to the community,” he said. “I feel like they (Vietnam veterans killed and missing in action) did their part, so they should be on this wall.”
Tre Wilson, a 17-year old senior at McCracken County’s Open Campus volunteered to help assemble the wall today. pic.twitter.com/cB2fDJE49a— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
David Johnson, who served in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is also a Paducah firefighter.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s supporting the people who came before me. They came home to a completely different environment than what all of us Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers came home to, and we just want to make sure they’re remembered and welcomed.”
David Johnson, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and a Paducah firefighter helped to assemble the wall today. pic.twitter.com/wA9fg4zHvQ— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
Tim Tetz is outreach director for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund which founded the traveling monument. He supervised assembly operations.
“I’ve been involved with it for over a decade now, and it’s always great to see how a community comes out and touches it in their own special way,” he said.
“Here, we’re on an old (horse) race track that has the legacy that is Kentucky. You don’t get that when you’re in Minnesota. You have the way that they’ve done the bunting and the flowers (around the track) that makes it so special. No matter where you go, no matter where you take it in the country, you get to see the local hometown touch. That’s what makes it so special, no matter what town you show up in.”
One of the first panels installed bore the name of Don Potter, a Paducah native whose nephew, John Potter, helped bring it to the wall and place it.
John Potter of Paducah placing the panel that includes his uncle Don Potter, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. pic.twitter.com/8fVH9bi8wt— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
That's another of the perks associated with bringing the memorial from city to city, Tetz said, because it so often works out that relatives or friends of those on the wall are able to directly interact with it in that way.
“Unlike any other war memorial we have in Washington, D.C., it’s personalized through its names,” he said. “He (Potter) didn’t know where his uncle was going to be. He was one of our team leads and he said, ‘Hey, my uncle’s on here somewhere. Where is he?’ To have the ability to look that up, to have the ability for him to hold and touch that panel, personalizes it."
Tim Tetz is the Director of Outreach for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which founded the traveling memorial. pic.twitter.com/FVuE8XGWQ9— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
Less than 30 minutes after the last panel had been installed, and while several rows of lights were still being put in place, David Roberts, who grew up in the same Calvert City neighborhood as Don Potter, was on hand to try and find the panel that bore Don Potter's name.
“I was in that age bracket where I could’ve been on that wall,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of good community support. War is bad, no matter which war it is. War is bad. I don’t think anybody really wins.”
The monument will be standing until 3 p.m. Sunday and is open to the public.
Assembly is well underway. pic.twitter.com/mE3RDiCt8S— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
The frame is very nearly complete. The panels with the names engraved on them, which are about 80 pounds each, go on next. pic.twitter.com/hwLzI4bZXc— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
The first of the panels going on the wall. pic.twitter.com/JmedHpeMdJ— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
The first names are going on the wall. pic.twitter.com/H9Jhp5IPH1— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
More names going on the wall. pic.twitter.com/Ki4Ux1rKFb— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
Volunteers lining up to bring panels to the wall. pic.twitter.com/TmUkFbNo8Q— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
McCracken County boys’ basketball coach Burlin Brower brought six of his vocational students to volunteer this morning. pic.twitter.com/uSTy9Lqv2u— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018
The final panels going in. pic.twitter.com/dhcGtIGKZ4— Al Willman (@AlWillmanSports) October 24, 2018