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Memorial wall to make stop

Published Sep. 27, 2005

(ran PW edition of Pasco Times)

Visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., helped Jeffrey Johnston let go of the pain the war caused him.

Later this month, Johnston and other local veterans hope to bring that same healing experience to Hernando County.

On Sept. 23, the Hernando County POW/MIA Committee will hold its second annual Recognition Day for the county's prisoners of war and those missing in action. As its centerpiece, the event will feature a half-scale replica of the Vietnam memorial.

Standing 8 feet high at the apex and spanning 378 feet, the replica travels to communities throughout the United States. Known as the Wall That Heals Traveling Museum and Information Center, the exhibit chronicles the Vietnam War and those who served in it.

Johnston, who is secretary for the committee, said that when the exhibit came to Hernando last year, it was a last-minute affair, and many local veterans missed their chance to see the memorial.

"Seeing the wall is a cathartic experience," said Johnston, who served two tours in Vietnam. "Veterans and their families can come and finally let go of the hang-ups they have had emotionally and psychologically."

In 1984, Johnston visited the Washington, D.C., memorial, an experience he said was emotionally shattering.

"Then, I could not deal with it," he said. "I have friends and people I served with on that wall from one end to the other."

Like many, Johnston had put the war out of his mind and refused to deal with it. For him, a visit to the memorial was a healing experience.

"Traveling to the wall has let me face what happened and let me deal with it," he said. "It has put things in perspective for me."

Like the original monument in Washington, there are more than 58,000 names engraved on the traveling wall, which represent the men and women who died or remain missing in the Vietnam War.

Names on the wall's 140 panels are arranged in order of date of casualty. An alphabetical directory will be available to help visitors locate specific names.

Johnston said he expects quite a few students to visit the memorial during school field trips Friday.

"We are looking forward to telling the kids not just about the wall, but the people it represents," he said.

Though the wall is a memorial for Vietnam veterans, Johnston said, the event is meant to honor veterans from all wars. Recognition Day, he said, will have displays to honor various groups. America's women veterans are paid homage in a half-size casting of Glenda Goodacre's Vietnam Women's Memorial _ showing the intensity of three women attending a severely wounded GI.

The Quilt of Tears will also be on display. Measuring 80 by 120 feet, the quilt's 12 panels are a tribute to America military veterans who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange.

"I'm really proud of the quilt because it brings recognition for a lot of people who have suffered for their country," Johnston said.

Other highlights of the day will include a tactical demonstration by the Hernando County SWAT team and displays by Hernando County firefighters and a group of World War II re-enactors. Color guards from local veterans organizations will perform the tribute, "Last Patrol."

Refreshments will be available.

The event will be from 10 a.m. until dark Sept. 23 at the Hernando County Airport south of Brooksville. The wall will be available for public viewing from Sept. 21 through Sept. 24.