A moving experience

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Despite the large crowd gathered around the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the Lions Club Fairgrounds on Tuesday, the atmosphere was silent and respectful.

People spoke in whispers and many shed tears as they walked the length of the wall looking for specific names.

Selma resident Freddie Platt, a Vietnam veteran with two purple hearts, said the memorial brought back memories of his fallen comrades.

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“My squad commander’s name is on that wall,” he said. “My name was almost on the wall. So many men lost their lives in this war.”

Platt, a former U.S. Marine, said he was injured during the Vietnam War after stepping on a booby trap. Years later, he is still struggling with the physical and mental affects of the war.

“I went to see the memorial in Washington, D.C.,” Platt said. “I broke down and couldn’t take it. When we came home from this war, we were spit on and called baby killers. We didn’t get recognized for this war for a long time.”

Kathi Needham, Chairman of the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce, said the traveling memorial, known as the Moving Wall, opened in Selma Tuesday and will be here until Sunday.

“The memorial will be open for visitation 24 hours each day,” Needham said. “Many veterans would like to visit the wall with few people here.”

The memorial, a half-size replica of the one in Washington, D.C., contains the names of 58,245 men and women killed during the Vietnam War.

At the opening ceremonies Tuesday evening, cadets from the Marion Military Institute performed military songs and drills for the crowd.

Col. James Benson, president of MMI, said more soldiers were killed in the Vietnam War than all the previous wars.

“It was not a dirty little war. I can speak from my own service…we lost five times as many as we lost in World War I, three times as many as we lost in Korea. There were more casualties and death in Vietnam as the horrors of World War II,” Benson said. “Did our soldiers…fight well? You bet they did. The numbers tell the story.”

Benson, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, said the experience of Vietnam was different for each soldier.

“For those of us on the ground, we knew the different sounds of the helicopters,” he said. “We knew they were our friends and they came when we called for help.”

The Moving Wall is being sponsored by the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce, with the assistance from several other local civic organizations and businesses.

A short closing ceremony will be held at the memorial at 2:30 p.m. before it travels on to its next destination.