BY MELANIE BUCK –
Organizers have been working for months to bring The Wall That Heals to Mena and their labors have almost come to fruition, and with that, will bring a monument to the community that is only being displayed in 40 cities across the nation in 2017. The Wall That Heals is a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. The half-scale replica was designed to travel to communities across the nation to spread the Memorial’s healing legacy and is accompanied by the Mobile Education Center.
Linda Johnson, Commandant of VFW Post 4451, has spearheaded the project. Johnson had visited the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. and had heard of the traveling replicas. “I was sitting one day thinking, I wonder if we can get one of those walls to come to Mena,” Johnson explained. She began searching online and found that there are four traveling walls. The first she found was booked for the year, the second already had applications from Arkansas submitted, so she went for the third. “I applied and in mid-November, I got an email saying Mena would be one of the sites in March,” Johnson smiled. The Wall will be displayed at Bearcat Stadium on Morrow Street in Mena from March 22 – 26.
Once the site was secured, funding for the $7,500 site fee expenses began. Johnson spoke to VFW Post 4451 and they agreed to host the event with financial help being chipped in by American Legion Post 18. However, more funding was needed so Johnson sent out sponsor letters and hit the streets in downtown Mena. They received a wonderful response from the community. “We had two private citizens donate $1,000 each because they wanted to see The Wall come here.” They also had many businesses and other individuals donate, as well as holding a fundraiser at the Limetree Restaurant in which 10% of their breakfast and lunch profits were donated for a day. They also held a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at a local church. Those two fundraisers brought in around $1,400.
In January, Johnson’s friends, Marge Ledbetter and Sandy Davis of CMA began helping. Ledbetter said, “My husband is so enthused. He is a big patriot and I knew he would love it. It’s an awesome idea and I’m really excited about it. My knowing Linda helped me to be bold enough to help,” she said.
Davis said, “Margie asked if I wanted to help with the Wall and I said ‘sure.’ I didn’t have a clue what I was in for.” And indeed, they and the rest of their support team still need the community’s support.
They are asking that the community line the streets to welcome The Wall when it comes to town, as well as hang flags up at local businesses and homes. They also need volunteers for setup, security, and teardown.
When The Wall That Heals arrives on March 22, it will begin its journey in Waldron. The Wall will tour Second Street in Waldron at 10 a.m. before hitting Highway 71 South to Mena. It will be escorted by various motorcycle clubs from Arkansas and Oklahoma including the Patriot Guards, Christian Motorcyclists Association, Combat Vets, Amercian Vets Motorcycle Club, and others.
Around 11 a.m., the group asks that community members line Highway 71, South Mena Street, Dallas Avenue, and Morrow Street near Bearcat Stadium and wave flags in honor of the veteran’s whose names are on The Wall.
Once at the stadium, volunteers are needed to help set up. Watchers are also needed. Each watcher shift runs six hours: 4 a.m. – 10 a.m.; 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.; 10 p.m. – 4 a.m. Watchers will also help people find names on The Wall and show what the Education Center entails. Volunteers are also needed for teardown at 4 p.m. on March 26. An orientation for volunteers will be held on March 22 at 6 p.m.
For the community, the Opening Ceremony will be held on March 23, at 10 a.m. Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend. Light refreshments will be served. The Wall will be available for viewing until March 26 at 3:30 p.m.
There will also be an Education Center on site. The exterior sides of the trailer that carries The Wall That Heals open to become a mobile Education Center. Information cases display photos of service members whose names are found on The Wall, along with letters and memorabilia left at The Wall in D.C. The Museum also includes a map of Vietnam and a chronological overview of the conflict in Vietnam. The exhibits tell the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall and the era surrounding the conflict, and are designed to put American experiences in Vietnam in a historical and cultural context.
Johnson said the Education Center will include a television screen that shows veterans from Polk County and surrounding counties that were killed in Vietnam.
For school groups, church groups, or any other kind of organizations, special speakers are provided that give an oral history of their experiences in Vietnam.
Davis explained that for those that served in Vietnam or even other conflicts, The Wall can bring a sense of healing. “When you see a name on The Wall, it’s like seeing a tombstone, it makes it very real, it makes it personal. It’s healing in the sense where they can release emotions that were built up. Everybody grieves differently and it’s something that is going to be a solemn thing for people to see. It will be an emotional thing.”
For those that haven’t served, Davis said, “It should bring thankfulness in realizing what the United States has done to keep us the free country we are and how important it is to keep it that way. If they hadn’t fought for this country, it would not be free, and they died to keep it that way. The Vietnam Vets were scoffed at when they came home where as now, the ones coming home now are honored. It’s time to honor Vietnam veterans and that’s what this does.”
To schedule a group session, to volunteer, or for more information, contact Linda Johnson at 956-241-2633.