Guilford hosts Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall

GUILFORD — For more than four days the town of Guilford is hosting the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall. The three-fifths replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. with more than 58,300 names opened to the public from the evening of Tuesday, July 2 and will be open through Saturday, July 6 on the dirt road behind the athletic fields near the Piscataquis River.

Standing 6 feet tall at the center and decreasing further out along the near 300 feet length end to end, the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall stands as a reminder of the sacrifices made during the Vietnam War. The structure was made for the purpose of helping heal and rekindle friendships and to allow people the opportunity to visit loved ones in their hometown who otherwise may not be able to make the trip to the nation’s capital.

During the opening ceremony on the early evening of July 2 Guilford Selectperson Paul “PZ” Zimmerman welcomed all present. “This means a lot to me, it means a lot to Guilford, Maine,” he said.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
REMEMBERING THOSE WHO MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE — The town of Guilford hosted the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall at the athletic fields from July 3-6 with an opening ceremony during the evening of July 2. The three-fifths replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. also has more than 58,300 names.

In an announcement for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, Zimmerman said the cause is near and dear to his heart as his business The Red Maple Inn does a lot for veterans. When he learned about the Wall, Zimmerman knew it had to come to Guilford and he is excited to have the memorial on display around the Fourth of July.

Former Guilford Town Manager Tom Goulette, wearing a red Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall volunteer T-shirt, told the crowd, “Guilford is pleased to host this event and heartfelt thanks go out to PZ for initiating and raising the funds for this project. A reminder, this is not about politics, not about political parties, it’s not about the candidates, it’s not about the elections. It’s about the honor due the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It matters little your personal opinion of the Vietnam War, what matters is these men and women died sacrificing their lives because it was their duty.”

After reading an excerpt from the 1854 poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Goulette said “These men and women were called, they answered that call, they went.”

He then read a prayer thanking all those who served “but especially those who sacrificed their hopes, their futures, their very lives.” 

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
WELCOMING REMARKS — Guilford Selectperson and Red Maple Inn owner Paul “PZ” Zimmerman welcomes attendees to the opening ceremony for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall on July 2 at the town’s athletic fields.

Goulette asked for eternal rest for the 58,000-plus whose names are chiseled into the wall and for peace and comfort to those who still live, many coping with the terrors of war, and for everyone else to be able to express care and compassion.

“Let us never forget the valor, courage, and commitment of these heroes as we respectfully honor those who never returned and those who are yet unaccounted for — painfully aware of the high cost of freedom,” Goulette said.

Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall Manager Doc Russo said he is honored to be in Guilford. “We travel the eastern half of the country with this wall from April to November of every year and I love going to the little towns,” he said.

Russo asked all Vietnam veterans to raise their hands, for a round of applause, and then similar thanks were given to veterans of more recent eras and first responders.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
LEAD IN PRAYER — Tom Goulette leads a prayer remembering those whose names are on the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall as well as all those who have served.

“People ask me why I do what I do and I have my personal reasons,” Russo said.

He said the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall was brought to a small town in Virginia for display on the high school campus. Next door an elderly lady, he dubbed “Grandma”, sat on her porch rocking chair for most of the time.

On the final day “Grandma” came over and thanked Russo for bringing the Wall to her town. She grabbed him by the shirt and brought Russo to the east end. Pointing at a name “Grandma” said, “This is the first time in 47 years my son has been home.”

“I don’t need more reason than that,” he said.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
WALL MANAGER — Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall Manager Doc Russo speaks to the audience during the July 2 opening ceremony in Guilford.

Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine both shared remarks from the state’s two senators before U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Regional Office Executive Director Jennifer Bover spoke.

Bover said the veteran service center processes claims for mental or physical conditions or illness linked to service or aggravated by time in service. Veteran readiness and employment programs also can help with education and employment and with those with more severe injuries help with independent living.

Sixty percent of the regional office staff are veterans themselves and Bouver said two were there that evening to help.

“It is our sincere desire to reach every veteran and survivor in Maine to ensure they are receiving the benefits they have earned,” she said.

Bouver said her late uncle was a U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam. He decided to not file any claims with the VA, feeling he was better off than most, until learning he had Stage 4 prostate cancer related to Agent Orange exposure. 

Having been with the VA for several years by then, Bouver said she told her uncle that if something happened to him then his wife would be taken care of and this led to him having paperwork filed thanks to his niece’s assistance.

“This is the type of service we provide to all veterans if they need this level of help,” Bouver said. “I work every single day to the best I can to serve veterans and survivors, to ensure they receive the benefits they have earned. My staff does the same thing, in fact I tell them if they remember nothing else of anything I say, to remember customer service.”

“Do not let the names listed on this wall be for naught, you are still here to honor them and receive the benefits you have earned,” she said.

Zimmerman closed the opening ceremony by mentioning the 18 sponsors and all the volunteers. “It’s going to be a great week, no rain in sight, now I declare the Wall open,” he said.

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