Vietnam Veterans Memorial: 30 years after unveiling, 'The Wall' draws vets, loved ones
The sound of bagpipes and a spring-like day, greeted throngs of Vietnam veterans and their families, arriving for a very special anniversary this Veterans Day weekend.
Thirty years ago, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as 'The Wall,' was unveiled for the first time.
"On 'The Wall' is a bunch of guys I served with," recalls Bob Arbasetti, wounded in 1968, after seeing action during the Tet Offensive, at Khe Sanh, and in the A Shau Valley. "You know they gave their life, I can give this day in memory of them."
Seeing each other, and remembering absent friends are a big part of this visit.
"Veterans Day is showing appreciation of each other," says Grant Coates, who's made the trip from New York State every year since 1985. "We're probably the biggest fraternity in the world. We talk about locations, and experiences, and people. There is a common thread."
On this special weekend, the memorial draws thousands. A simple, yet poignant design. More than 58,000 names etched in stone.
"I can't believe it's been 30 years since we dedicated this memorial," exclaims John Rowan, the national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
He recalls how the memorial design was initially very controversial.
Now he says, the ability of people to reach out and touch the names of the loved and lost, is a deeply emotional experience.
"There's no rank. There's just the name," Rowan says. "You don't even have a branch of service. The sacrifice is the same, whether you're a private or a general."
For veterans like Bill Dillehay, the names are also faces from a long ago war, now receding in the distance.
"He took my place, and he got killed with an RPG," a tearful Dillahay says, seeing the name of a veteran who replaced him after he was wounded in 1967.
Dillehay is collecting rubbings of the names of fallen friends from his unit, Charlie Company, 4th battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.
The pieces of paper, with the names now imprinted, are a reminder of their supreme sacrifice. He's collecting them in a book, and is thinking about doing the same on the Internet.
"We can take our fallen brothers to the reunion each year. Everybody can go through the book, look at their name, look at the picture, touch their name," he says.
The Park Police helicopters flying above are a vivid reminder of the Hueys these vets once flew.
Yet on the ground, in the green spaces around the memorial, some took time for a quiet prayer, or to share a word with a long-lost friend.
A day of solemn ceremonies, wreaths laid, and flowers placed just so. And the names. so many names, never forgotten.
Bob Arbasetti says he's here to honor his buddies who are here, and those who never came home.
"On the worst day of my life, they stood with me," he says quietly. "And on the worst day of their lives, I was with them. Comes down to that kind of love."