Vietnam Wall gives veterans a moment to reflect

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Civilians, Service members and veterans in the Johnson County area gathered to attend the opening ceremony of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall at the Concordia Aquatic Center in Concordia, Mo., Sept. 4.

The wall will be on display at the baseball field near the aquatic center until Sept. 8.

"I guarantee that six months from now, when there will be snow blowing out here, some will come out here and stand; they will remember this weekend," said retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Welsh, Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall manager.

Welsh is a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force for more than 21 years.

"For some, this will never be a baseball diamond. This will be hallowed ground where the wall was and some will come out here and just stand and look at an empty ball diamond and they will remember them - this weekend we were here in Concordia," he added.

Hosting the wall in Concordia provided a unique opportunity to honor those who served in the Vietnam War, said one of the event's key organizers.

"It's been a distinct honor to bring the wall out to our community," said Mark Heins, Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall committee chairman. "We've had an amazing turnout and a constant flow of traffic. All of the area schools have been bringing busloads of children for educational opportunities."

Even though it has been a half a century since the Vietnam War, it is still very meaningful and touching to a lot of people, he said.

More than 1,200 people attended the ceremony, which included speeches given by Vietnam veterans and the playing of music by various music groups including the Airlifter Brass Band from Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The event also included a presentation of colors and a wreath-laying ceremony conducted by the Whiteman Air Force Base Honor Guard.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall helps bring past and present military members and civilians of all ages together to view the names of lost family members and fallen companions, said retired U.S. Navy Col. Donald Ballard.

A Vietnam War veteran, Ballard is the only living Medal of Honor recipient in Missouri and dedicated more than 35 years of his life to military service.

"It's heartfelt to see everyone come out tonight to share their love, understanding and feelings with this wall," Ballard said.

Since the Vietnam War was an unpopular conflict during the 1960s and early 1970s, it was difficult for post-war veterans to easily transition back into society after returning from overseas, Ballard said.

"It was already hard enough because all of us suffered from some level of post-traumatic stress disorder," said Ballard, who still suffers from PTSD today.

While encouraging other veterans who also have PTSD, Ballard said he deals with his stress on a personal level.

"None of us wanted to go to war," Ballard said. "None of us wanted to go to combat and put ourselves in harm's way."

Surrounding himself with others who have been through similar experiences helps him cope with memories from the frontlines he has to live with forever, he said.

"I share my stories with people and I gain a lot by listening," Ballard said. "I listen and encourage other people to talk. By me helping them, I help myself."

Like Armed Forces members who are serving tours around the world today, the veterans engraved on the wall responded to their nation's call because their country needed them to, Ballard said.

"The 58,000 people who are on the wall own this Medal of Honor," Ballard said. "I wear it for them because they have earned more in my heart and my soul than any accolades or awards this government could ever offer. They were mostly 18-, 19- and 20-year-old men who gave up their lives so we could enjoy the freedoms we have today."

Those who come to see the wall pay an honor not only to the 58,000 veterans that are on the wall, but also to veterans of all wars.

"We've got the best country in the world and it is well worth fighting for," Ballard said.