NORWALK, Conn. — The Vietnam War memorial was welcomed to Norwalk with an opening ceremony Thursday in a soggy Veterans Park.
“There are some people at this event in this city in this country that slogged through rice paddies in the rain, and if they could do that, we can do this,” said Jeff DeWitt, Chairman of the Military & Veterans Liaison Committee, in kicking off the ceremony after a rainstorm passed.
Wreaths were laid at the wall and prayers were said. There are 58,000 names on the wall, representing the servicemen who died; 61% were 18 years old or younger, according to keynote speaker Robin Montgomery.
“Each one of those names has a story,” Montgomery said.
It’s the second time “The Wall That Heals,” a replica of a memorial in Washington D.C., has come to Norwalk, Mayor Harry Rilling said.
“Vietnam veterans are very passionate about this wall, passionate about their service to this country, passionate, because when many of them came home, they were mistreated, they were treated rudely. They were frowned upon,” said Rilling, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1971.
“They call it ‘The Wall That Heals’ for a reason,” Rilling said. “Because healing is necessary. Most Vietnam veterans now are in their 70s, perhaps 80s. And they’ve lived a life of just sadness, keeping things inside of them because of what they experienced when they were overseas.”
“The Vietnam War and active U.S. involvement in the war began in 1954, though ongoing conflict in the region had stretched back several decades,” History.com states. “… By 1962, the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam had reached some 9,000 troops, compared with fewer than 800 during the 1950s.”
The escalated to more than 200,000 troops in 1965, under President Lyndon Johnson.
“Opposition to the war in the United States bitterly divided Americans, even after President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973,” History.com states. “Communist forces ended the war by seizing control of South Vietnam in 1975, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year.”
Norma Nyquist told opening ceremony attendees part of how it affected her: She was a girl in the Philippines when she met a handsome man from Wisconsin, there as part of his pilot training. Against the odds, he returned again and again and eventually sought her hand in marriage. There were hurdles to jump but the knot was tied, and as he left right after the wedding to return to Vietnam, she wondered if she’d ever see him alive again.
She didn’t. He was shot down less than two months later and perished.
Montgomery, who served as a marine in Vietnam, said he was seriously wounded in June 1969 and “was lucky to make it back home.”
“The older I get, the more I realize just how great of a loss we had with those 58,000 names on that wall,” he said. “Not just how many died. But how those lives were cut so short.”
He said, “As you reflect on the wall, you want to reflect, not on numbers, not on statistics. But on stories, stories like Norma just told.”
The memorial is open 24 hours a day through 2 p.m. Sunday June 5. LED lighting will enable nighttime viewing. Full details including a schedule of attendant activities is here.