By Beth Day, Special to Fort Riley Public AffairsJune 25, 2018
WAMEGO, Kan. -- Soldiers, both past and present, from Fort Riley and the 1st Infantry Division had key roles in the recent tenure of The Wall That Heals in Wamego, Kansas.
Troops from Fort Riley were represented -- beginning with the Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard, which escorted the wall into town on June 13 and displayed the colors at the opening ceremony, to remarks made by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Dodson, former 1st Inf. Div., and Fort Riley commanding general and at the closing ceremony Sunday.
"It was first and foremost an honor," said Staff Sgt. Jerry Fellon of the Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard. "It means a lot to those of us on the team as well as Americans throughout the country. To be part of something like this, escorting it into town and being part of the ceremony. It's something we love doing and we wouldn't change it for anything."
The Wall That Heals is a 3/5 replica of the Vietnam War Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C., and it travels around the country. More than 2,000 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers have their name inscribed on it.
At the opening ceremony June 14, Capt. Amber Grimsley, 1st Inf. Div. Sustainment Brigade, joined with young singers from Wamego's West Elementary School to present the national anthem.
"It's very humbling to be here," she said. "Everyone thanks me for my service, but I feel I should thank them for theirs."
The ceremony was June 14 -- Flag Day and the Army's birthday.
"We join here together both on Flag Day and the Army's birthday to celebrate the many examples of service and sacrifice that is on The Wall That Heals," said Kansas Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann, keynote speaker at the ceremony. "The sight of our flag, the Stars and Stripes, has inspired and encouraged Soldiers through the ages and continues to do so today. As we celebrate the Army's birthday, we remember all of those who have taken up the call to be Army Strong."
Retired Army Col. Roger Donlon, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War, was also a speaker.
"It's often said that time heals all wounds," he said. "I have to disagree with that. Time heals all wounds to a measure. There are certain types of wounds which never get fully healed. Occasions like this are the best medicine for those types of wounds. Behind me stands the names on the wall; over 58,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Gatherings like these help heal those wounds and continue to help from small-town America."
The wall was open to the public 24 hours a day during the five days it was in Wamego and drew veterans, their families and those interested in the war and wanting to honor the veterans. A mobile education center, featuring items left by The Wall in Washington, D.C., was also part of the exhibit which remained open until the closing ceremony held at 1 p.m., June 16.
Capt. Andrew Nielsen, a 1st Inf. Div. chaplain, gave the invocation for the closing ceremony and followed it with a personal message.
"With the backdrop today, it (Father's Day) has extra meaning," he said. "Some here today, maybe their fathers didn't come back. Being without a father is painful. My father was a Vietnam veteran. He was drafted, but he did come home and I'm grateful for that and thankful for his service. I'm sure many of you here today have fathers, grandfathers who served in Vietnam, who struggled for our freedom. We thank your fathers. For the pain and sweat, not only that you served your country, but you came home and sacrificed for us."
Dodson returned as keynote speaker for the closing ceremony.
"The Vietnam veterans returning from the war didn't properly receive the thanks from our nation and I think everybody recognizes that," he said. "It's only in recent years and with events like this they have been recognized for their sacrifice. For many veterans and their families, it's not possible for them to go to Washington, D.C., and see the monument. So to honor them, this traveling wall means a lot. It brings honor to our veterans and says at last, thank you for the sacrifice you made on behalf of us all."
After the ceremony Dodson explained why events like The Wall are so important to Fort Riley and the "Big Red One" in particular.
"I made a speech not too long ago about the 100th Anniversary of the 1st Infantry Division," he said. "Part of that was the formation of the Division in 1917, the battles of 1918, the comings home and proud traditions that sustain the division and the country, all the way to today. It's an amazing chronology of firsts, first in just about everything America has asked military units to do.
"So when you come to things like this, and you're able to see flags and the people who truly care about veterans and those still serving, it's very good for me," he continued. "The people in Kansas, and all over the Midwest are genuinely nice people. They have the spirit of family, patriots and they really ought to be proud."