Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall draws visitors from throughout the Midwest

Thomas says visitors to Wall number ‘tens of thousands’

Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall draws visitors from throughout the Midwest

By Gloria Lloyd

Even 46 years later, John Bulaney has never forgotten his old Air Force buddy Angelo Pullara, who was killed in action while piloting a helicopter in Vietnam.

Bulaney and his wife, Billie, of Ballwin, saw Pullara’s name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall for the first time Saturday, when they visited the replica wall at Lindbergh High School.

“We’re glad we finally got here,” Bulaney said. “I still think about him, even though it was 1967 (when he died) … He was a really good friend.”

The Bulaneys were two of the thousands of visitors from throughout Missouri and the Midwest who flocked to the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Wall at Lindbergh High School for four days last week to pay tribute.

The Traveling Wall is an 80-percent replica of the national memorial in Washington, D.C., and lists the more than 58,000 names of those who died in the Vietnam War.

The entire visit came off without a hitch, said Butch Thomas, president of the Sunset Hills Historical Society, who organized the event in collaboration with veterans’ groups and hundreds of volunteers.

“One little girl told me, ‘They came here from all over the world to see the Wall,’ … There’s no way we’ll ever know (how many visited the Wall),” Thomas said. “But I know it was tens of thousands. The community really came together, and it was an outstanding event. I had the right people — that was key.”

Many visitors to the Wall left mementoes — letters, pictures, flowers, teddy bears and even beer cans. The tributes left at the Wall included memorials to two of the six residents listed on the Crestwood War Memorial, Jerry B. Kraft and Roger Wilson Chasteen. Both were Marines.

Kraft was married and a member of Sheet Metal Local 36 when he was killed at the age of 21 in Vietnam.

Chasteen, a graduate of Lindbergh High School, was 20 years old when he was killed.

“Roger, I will always remember. I love you always. Miss you. Your sister, Joyce,” read a picture and letter left under Chasteen’s name on the Wall.

Thomas estimates that volunteers collected 200 items that visitors left at the Wall. They took the items to the Sunset Hills Historical Society, which will display them in the Sunset Hills Community Center.

Some of the local dignitaries who spoke at the daily ceremonies during the Wall’s visit included U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, County Executive Charlie Dooley, Sunset Hills Mayor Bill Nolan, Crestwood Mayor Jeff Schlink and Crestwood Municipal Judge Charles Berry. Dooley and Berry are Vietnam veterans.

Joseph Frank, of Sunset Hills, was the keynote speaker for the June 13 opening ceremony.

Frank is a past national commander of the American Legion and a current member of the Missouri Veterans Commission, appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

He is a recipient of the Purple Heart for his wounds in Vietnam, which left him paraplegic.

Frank was one of 100 veterans to use shovels for the original groundbreaking of the Vietnam Memorial Wall on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“Vietnam was a life-defining experience for every American who lived during that era,” Frank said during his keynote speech. “… (The Wall) has become, in the words of many, a national place of healing.”

Vietnam veterans carry both “visible and invisible wounds,” Frank said, and they typically will not talk about their experiences during the war. Many of them use their experience overcoming the stress of returning from combat to assist veterans of more recent wars.