Hundreds say goodbye to Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall

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EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — After five days, the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is being disassembled and leaving East Peoria.

City officials said thousands came, day and night, to visit the structure in Levee park since it was brought in last Wednesday.

Hundreds came out to Sunday’s closing ceremony for one last look at the wall, and many were emotional and even wiping away tears as they took a second to remember those who lost their lives in battle.

The ceremony was short, featuring “Taps” playing on the trumpet, a rifle solute and the honor guard retrieving the colors. Dan Decker, city commissioner, said in this instance less was more.

“We wanted the closing to really not have to say anything and to be a statement in itself,” Decker said. “People were just in silence just watching the flag move away.”

Decker said the silence during the quick ceremony was a great way to honor those whose names are engraved on the wall.

“There are no words that can explain the sacrifice that the soldiers, the marines, and everyone made to this,” Decker said.

After the ceremony, those in attendance showed their appreciation in solutes, flowers, and tears. Doc Russo, the wall manager, said the admiration the community has shown toward the wall was a highlight for him.

“The respect that they treat the wall is phenomenal and it makes me proud to do what I do,” Russo said.

Russo said they originally decided to build the six-foot-tall replica wall back in 2005. He said it was essentially built by rocket scientists.

“A lot of space center contractors pitched in and did a lot of different work whether it be welding pieces together or building different pieces,” Russo said.

He said he gets about 300 yearly requests to bring the wall to different locations and he ultimately chooses 18. He said the impact it leaves on the areas he travels to makes his job worthwhile.

“This park will never be viewed the same by the folks, Vietnam vets, and their families as they drive down the road,” Russo said. “From now on they’re going to go ‘hey do you remember when the wall was there do you remember when I took you to see grandpa.”

Decker said the process took about two years to bring the wall to East Peoria. He said being able to show it to the younger generation is an added bonus.

“I saw so many people with their kids,” Decker said. “Their kids had no idea what this wall was about but when they left here, they atleast had an understanding.”

He said the city wants to try to bring the wall back at minimum in 3-4 years. He said trying to do it every year could possibly dimish its impact.

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