By Kevin Fleming, ASC Public AffairsJuly 31, 2015
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Vietnam War veterans were honored here, July 30, during RIA's Vietnam War 50th anniversary celebration. As part of the celebration, the Wall That Heals, a half sized replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, was brought to the arsenal.
The Vietnam War claimed more than 58,000 U.S. Military lives and divided a nation. President Lyndon B. Johnson never officially declared war, resulting in questions about U.S. involvement.
With new media technology, Americans watched the horrors of war on their television screens for the first time. Returning military, many draftees, were not welcomed home, which is still seen as one of the greatest injustices in U.S. Military history.
"They didn't choose to go there, they just did their duty," said Command Chaplin Jeffery Botsford (Lt. Col.), U.S. Army Sustainment Command.
"They came back doing the best they could, and then they were treated pretty poorly by a lot of folks, not everyone, but a lot of folks."
Botsford led the prayer during the replica's opening ceremony.
The original war monument was built in 1982. In 1996, the Vietnam Veterans Fund began paying for replicas to travel around the country.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Rolf J. Shave, a Vietnam veteran with the words, "Agent Orange, the 'gift' that keeps on giving," stitched on his shirt, stayed up all night to watch over the wall as a volunteer. The wall is open for 24 hour viewing through August 2.
"I know too many people up there. It's just one way of paying back, one way of honoring my friends," said Shave.
Shave, who is a member of the Vietnams Veterans of America Chapter 776, said that the mobile wall represents social acceptance.
"It means that people care enough to not only have The Wall, but also this wall, to transport this wall across the country for everyone to see," said Shave, gesturing to the lists of names, illuminated by the wall's lights just before dawn.
"It's a lot different nowadays -- nowadays people do appreciate us. I was in the Fourth of July parade in Bettendorf a couple weeks back, and people were waving and cheering. Whereas, 40 years ago, we were 'baby killers,'" he said, somberly shaking his head.
"Today, people appreciate who we are, what we did. I could have gone to Canada and evaded the draft, but I did my turn."
Shave said that he still struggles with looking up his friend's names on the wall.
"The first time I went to see the wall in June '97 -- couldn't. I've been to DC a number of times since -- and the wall," he said trailing off quietly.
Botsford, whose brother served in Vietnam, said that the wall helps with the spiritual healing process.
"I think the wall is a great thing because it helps people -- when you see names there, you begin to open up. It makes it more real," said Botsford.
"I think the Vietnam War, for a lot of folks, was like a sore that was never healed, but it was covered, and I think that when people go to the wall, that scab comes off and the wrongness of the feelings come out. Then, people can begin the healing process if they haven't already."
Younger members of the community also found significance in the wall and in the mobile museum that accompanied it.
"What was the most touching to me was seeing the letters -- I was just overcome with emotion," said Caitlin Herrera, 25. "It was a glimpse of feeling, what those families must have felt."
U.S. Army Garrison-RIA hosted the opening ceremony and arranged the wall's visit. The speaker for the opening ceremony was veteran and triple recipient of the Silver Star William "Bill" Aldracht.
"I think having the wall here was a great thing that the garrison commander (Col. Elmer Speights) did," said Botsford.