Richard Steinberg stood silently before the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, paying respect to the men who served and the friends he lost. The 68-year-old U.S. Army veteran, who deployed to Vietnam twice in the 1960s, didn't want to speak their names. It's difficult, he said. What they did, who they were, is too sacred for clumsy words.
Steinberg, who lives in St. Petersburg, has visited the memorial in its permanent and transient forms four times — twice in Washington, D.C., twice in the Tampa Bay area.
"It's like a magnet to me," he said.
For comfort, he brings Kira, a German shepherd wearing a vest labeled "Guardian." She trotted against his right pant leg, gentle but protective, as he walked the traveling wall's 288-foot stretch.
Steinberg joined generations of military men and women on Friday for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall's opening ceremony in Clearwater's Coachman Park.
A wreath planted in the grass read: Hallowed Ground.
On the stage, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, surrounded by military officials and Honor Guard soldiers, thanked the crowd for their service. He, too, visits special names carved on the wall.
After the national anthem, a clergyman prayed: "Keep our servicemen safe."
The wall, a scaled replica of the Vietnam memorial in Washington, arrived Thursday, accompanied by a motorcade of 100 veterans. Family members came to snap photos, exchange memories and support other Floridians affected by the human sacrifices of war.
Annette Cuzzupe-Kirk of Seffner stood in the shade of a tree thinking of her son, Pfc. Paul Cuzzupe II, who died two years ago in Afghanistan. She carries his dog tags around her neck or in her pocket, depending on the occasion. He's always with her that way.
Paul, she said, was bright, deeply kind, a talented guitarist, "handsome as can be" and an unintentional ladies man. Annette, a Gold Star Mother, attended the ceremony to honor him and those who have fallen protecting freedom.
"We all have the same bond," she said.
Jessica D'Alessio of Largo, a recreational therapist at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, came for her father, who served in Vietnam and now lives in Connecticut. He's flying down for a wedding in New Port Richey next week, and she wanted to surprise him with something special: the pencil-traced names of four men who fought beside him.
D'Alessio choked back tears as she crouched in the mulch beside the wall and began to scribble.
"It's emotional," she said. "It's not in your face every day. You see this and just appreciate everything these men have done."
Herman Halterman, 78, of Tampa brought a stack of papers to the ceremony. They contained directions to about a dozen of his friends' names, etched into the wall's glossy black surface.
A veteran himself, he shared Vietnam — the exhaustion, the terror, the practical jokes in the barracks — with each of them. He paused first by the east wall, tracing panel 21 to line 26: William G. Coats. "Monkey," as Halterman calls him.
"Monkey taught me more than any man I've ever met," he said, laughing. "I respected him more than anyone."
He paused to reminisce about Coats' big heart, playful personality and big funeral in South Carolina. Then, Halterman bowed his head, turned a page and quietly sought the next old friend.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4224. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.