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‘The Wall That Heals’ passes through Lake County

On Veterans Day 1996, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund unveiled a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., designed to travel to communities throughout the United States. The traveling exhibition, called “The Wall That Heals,” allows veterans a chance to view the emotional tribute in the comfort of their own communities.

The Wall That Heals passed through Lake County on Tuesday, Aug. 20, on its way to Whitefish, where the aluminum replica stood four days in its full 250-foot wide, chevron-shaped glory, honoring the 58,235 names of brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers who lost their lives or went missing during the Vietnam conflict.

The wall stopped briefly in Ronan, Pablo and Polson, accompanied by more than 30 motorcycle riders respectfully honoring the fallen. 

Although the wall’s six panels are secured inside a trailer, the exterior sides of the trailer open and become a mobile museum along the route. Information cases display photos of service members whose names are found on The Wall, along with letters and memorabilia left at The Wall in D.C. The exhibits tell the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall and the era surrounding the conflict. 

In Ronan, members of the Warrior Society honored the names on the exhibit with a salute as it paused at the Ronan VFW. 

Bob Sammon of Whitefish organized the visit, and accompanied the truck as it traveled north along Highway 93. He served as a respiratory therapist in the Army Reserve during Desert Storm.

“There have been seven of us working weekly on this since we won the bid in December, 2012,” Sammon said.

One call to Ronan veteran Bob Bell, a Patriot Guard Rider, helped muster a cadre of motorcycles to bookend the exhibit as it rolled up the road, according to Sammon.

Sammon anticipated 800 to 1,000 people would visit the wall each day through Sunday, Aug. 25, where it was displayed at Grouse Mountain Lodge and hosted by the Whitefish VFW Post 277. Events included ceremonies with readings from a high school essayist, a youth day, and a closing ceremony conducted by Navy Seal Veteran and Montana Senator Ryan Zinke, a Whitefish graduate.

Although there are several traveling wall replicas run by different organizations, The Wall That Heals is the only traveling replica run by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. 

Names on the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in D.C. are updated periodically. As of May 2013, the wall has 58,286 names inscribed. 

Due to funding constraints, The Wall That Heals has not been updated since 2003, so fewer names are included in the traveling exhibit, according to Erika Ross, volunteer coordinator in D.C.

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