Vietnam veterans, vets from other wars, school children and other community members turned out yesterday for the first day of the American Veteran’s Traveling Tribute Memorial Wall which will be up through 2 p.m. Sunday at Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington.
A big bell, on loan from Illinois State University and which came from a Navy ship, rang out at noon to mark the first hour of the display. Bob Mueninghoff , a local Vietnam vet who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, rang the bell that he first heard at the funeral for Judge Charles Witte. "He was one of us," he said referring to Witte's service in Vietnam which ended in 1968 when he returned and married his wife Donna.
Mueninghoff says his doctors recommended he visit his training site, the Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. and take any opportunity to confront his war experience to process it in a more positive way. It took him 40 years to realize he needed therapy. Choking up he said, "One of the men on the wall, it was an order I gave that cost his life and I regret that. Would he have lived longer? Maybe. Could I have done something different? Maybe. Would he have lived longer? Probably not." Mueninghoff says he hit rock bottom eight years ago, sought help and now runs a veterans support group at Eastview Christian Church.
Wall Offers Teachable Moment
Bent Elementary Teacher Susan Dobson says the wall, with its more than 58,300 names, brings to life the realities of war and the grieving families it left behind. "They've [the students] noticed pictures left. They've noticed roses left. So they're having those connections they had with the text [information about the Vietnam War] that I couldn't give them that they had to experience." She added they might not fully understand what they saw until a classroom discussion that will occur. "They might not get it all right now but when we start decompressing and talking they'll say 'Wow, that's just like what we read about.'"
Home School parent Amanda Holliway said the Traveling Tribute Wall and other exhibits provide a vivid opportunity to reinforce lessons she's been teaching her eight year-old son Gabe. "We have been watching some Youtube videos and so he knows the names on the wall are of those who have died in the war," she said while walking through a display with artifacts including a prosthetic leg, dog tags, guns, and photos of wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
There will be a special candlelight ceremony at 6 p.m. Saturday at Evergreen Ceremony with a recognition of the female nurses killed in the Vietnam War. A candle will also be lit for each of the 104 soldiers from McLean and surrounding counties who made the ultimate sacrifice. That includes David L. Scott of Carlock who is still classified as Missing in Action.