American Veterans Traveling Tribute Wall on display Thursday through Sunday

Society, volunteers organize Wall’s visit to Lindbergh High

By Gloria Lloyd

Veterans and visitors from throughout the Midwest are expected to visit the traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which will be on display here today through Sunday.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute Wall is an 80 percent replica of the national memorial in Washington, D.C., that lists the more than 58,000 names of those who died in the Vietnam War. It travels the country for those who wish to pay tribute.

Visitors can view the 630-foot wall on the campus of Lindbergh High School, 5000 S. Lindbergh Blvd., 24 hours a day from 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 13 through the closing ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 16.

“That wall, to me, is very much a living thing,” said Tom Irwin, executive director of Civic Progress and keynote speaker at the May 16 fundraising luncheon for the wall. “Those folks, at one time, all walked among us.”

The Sunset Hills Historical Society organized the wall’s visit with the help of hundreds of local volunteers, assistance from veterans’ groups and donations from businesses. In total, the group raised $38,000 for the event, which will help pay for security, insurance and the cost of transporting the wall.

For Butch Thomas, who is in his last year as president of the historical society, the effort is a personal one.

Although he was medically disqualified to serve in the military, he has three close friends who are listed on the wall, including his college roommate.

“That really hits home with you when you know people that well,” he said. “I was just that close to going to Vietnam … Our Vietnam vets are just now getting the respect that they should have gotten way back then.”

Thomas said he hopes that 100,000 people view the wall during its time in south county, which overlaps with Flag Day tomorrow and Father’s Day on Sunday.

He has received calls from as far away as Nebraska from veterans looking to see the wall, and he notes that the event has been better-publicized than the wall’s visit to Arnold two years ago, which saw attendance of 47,000.

The wall is not an “attraction,” however, Thomas noted — the event is a tribute to those honored on the wall.

“This is something that really brings the community together, to honor our fallen heroes from Vietnam,” he said. “I’ve done other things before, but the response from this is amazing.”

The traveling version of the wall is 80 percent the size of the permanent memorial and designed so that those who wish can pay tribute to those who died in or as a result of injuries from the Vietnam War even if they are not able to travel to Washington, D.C.

The wall arrived Wednesday, June 12, escorted to the high school by a 200-car motorcade and 100 Patriot Guard motorcycle riders from Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois who planned to accompany the wall to Missouri from Ohio.

Organizers set up a tent that will provide services, including volunteers and computers to assist visitors who want to locate specific names on the wall and paper and pencil to make rubbings of names from the wall.

St. Anthony’s Medical Center is providing a first-aid station, and the Lindbergh Alumni Association is volunteering to drive golf carts for senior citizens and the handicapped so they also can visit the wall.

On Friday, June 14, Veterans’ Affairs officials will be available to assist any veterans who are encountering problems with receiving assistance or services.

VA officials will be at the high school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Organizers also hope the wall brings the reality of war to a new generation.

“It will be a teaching exercise,” Thomas said at the May 16 luncheon fundraiser for the wall. “There’s certain generations that don’t quite understand what the cost is for our freedoms today.”