A traveling Vietnam memorial wall stops in Hendersonville for the weekend
A replica of the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial has landed at the Veterans Healing Farm in Hendersonville, and will be on display through Sunday, November 12.
For Vietnam veteran Stephen Henderson, a visit to the traveling exhibit will be the third time he has seen the wall come to Western North Carolina.
“It's quite moving,” he told BPR. “It makes you think about how fortunate you were to make it home and be with your family. Then you also think about those folk’s names on that wall that never got to enjoy possibly getting married, having children, you know, growing up and being productive in life because of giving that ultimate sacrifice.”
The wall is a little over half the size of the original monument in Washington, D.C., and it is made of the same reflective, black granite material. Etched into the stone are the names of the more than 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
“It has all the same names on it and they can actually do the rubbings just like on the real wall in DC,” Megan Landreth, an Air Force Veteran and director at the Veterans Healing Farm, said. The farm is a nonprofit organization that helps veterans address and heal war trauma.
“People can leave stuff at the wall, everything. So it is basically exactly the same in a smaller version that can travel all over the United States to where people are able to view it without having to go to DC,” she said.
Alan Yeck, executive director of the farm said setting up the monument took about three hours, 20 volunteers, and a police escort. In total, the wall stretches 100 yards with the tallest panels peaking at six feet.
Yeck, a Marine Corps veteran, said the wall can be an important part of the healing process for veterans who grapple with trauma and other negative experiences from war. The struggle may be particularly difficult for Vietnam veterans who hid or felt ashamed of their service, Yeck said.
Many who served in Vietnam “threw their uniforms and medals away and they didn't tell anybody they were in. They hid their service. And that was the pain of losing their friends that was hidden too,” Yeck said.
“The wall stands as a reminder of the sacrifices made during the Vietnam War. It was made for the purpose of helping heal, and it rekindles friendships,” he said.
Henderson said the wall helps the healing process.
“I think it's a really good release to see that name, realize and maybe finalize the grieving process because during war you do not have time. You know, you may lose somebody beside you that you have to keep fighting and you have to block that out of your mind,” he said.
“Sometimes it comes back to you and in a series of nightmares. After you see these names on the wall and you think back, sometimes it helps you manage this severe trauma from your life from years ago.”
During the wall’s stay, there will be a coffee tent, canine therapy, peer support specialists, and other mental health professionals on site. There are also several art programs to help transform veteran experiences into paintings and works of creative writing.
The nonprofit Bullets and Bandaids will have an exhibit on display through Sunday. Exhibit organizer Robert LeHeup said the artwork illustrates a range of stories from both veterans and their families.
The 20 paintings on display chronicle some of war’s most intense and unexpected experiences, he said. Some paintings portray the perspectives of veteran’s families and caregivers.
“We had one gentleman who was talking about his first six days in the bush in Vietnam, and how there was a giant man, 6 feet 3 inches, corn-fed, and he was killed on day one. So for the next five days, they had to lug around his body,” LeHeup explained.
Other stories focused on topics such as psychological warfare and the juxtaposition of war equipment in contrast with the natural beauty of Vietnam.
Henderson, director of the North Carolina Veterans Writing Alliance, also organized an event around storytelling. His nonprofit helps veterans heal through war trauma through creative writing and the spoken word.
“Writing about it has helped them manage their PTSD and traumatic brain injuries as well as other traumas, and it has created a brother and sisterhood,” Henderson said.
While the event was built for the veteran community, event organizers welcome the whole community to attend. On Saturday, Yeck expects around 1,000 visitors.
“I think it's a good thing for the young people to see that, you know, war’s not like the movies,” Henderson said. “Everybody named on that wall gave the sacrifice that no young person should have to do and most of those people on that wall are 18, 19, early twenties. Very few people on that wall were older.”
The wall will stay at the farm through Sunday, November 12. Visitors can see the wall anytime day or evening. At night, the wall has special lighting and security.
On Saturday, November 11, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. shuttles will run every 30 minutes from Mills River Brewing, Bold Rock Cider in Mills River, and the courthouse in downtown Hendersonville.
For more information on the schedule, see the event page.