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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall opens in Spokane Valley

Aug. 23, 2017 Updated Wed., Aug. 23, 2017 at 10:31 p.m.

The veteran began to shake and cry as he stood looking at the names lining the traveling replica Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Patrick O’Neill, who travels the country with “The Wall that Heals” replica, approached and asked the veteran a question he has posed many times before, to many of the installation’s visitors. “Who is that to you?” he asked.

The name, the veteran said, belonged to a man he had met only once.

“He said, ‘The Army let me go home four days early. That was my replacement,’ ” O’Neill recounted Wednesday. “He said, ‘I met him once, and he died the next day.’ ”

“It’s part of the whole thing,” O’Neill said. “Some guys were generals and led people. Some guys fixed Jeeps. But they were all there, and they all lost people they cared about.”

Police escorted the traveling wall through downtown Spokane on Monday en route to Mirabeau Point Park in Spokane Valley. Visitors are welcome to visit the wall anytime until 4 p.m. Sunday.

O’Neill makes 40 stops a year with the 250-foot replica, a copy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., where the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died or were listed as missing-in-action during the Vietnam War are etched in stone.

While other replica walls travel around the country, only “The Wall That Heals” is associated with the memorial in Washington, D.C. It came to Spokane Valley through the efforts of KSPS Public Television and other corporate sponsors.

The wall is hauled by a large trailer, which incorporates several museum-like displays showing relics and photographs from the era. Visitors may also visit a tent where they can learn the exact spot of any name they want to find.

Just like the wall in the nation’s capital, the names are arranged in alphabetical order for the particular day each service member died, in chronological order from the beginning of the war to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

The wall includes 244 service members from Eastern Washington and North Idaho who were killed during the Vietnam War. Each of those 244 names will be read following the opening ceremony at 9 a.m. Thursday. A field of small flags representing each fallen service member will be placed on the park grounds, said Sandra Kernerman, director of special giving for KSPS.

Funding to bring the wall to the region was secured through a grant, as well as through other corporate donations and support from Eastern Washington University and the city of Spokane Valley. The campaign is part of a larger effort to highlight the upcoming 10-part Public Broadcasting System series “The Vietnam War” produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

“We will not accept donations for this event,” Kernerman said. “It wouldn’t be right.”

But KSPS will also have production crews on hand to record stories of local veterans and families who would like to share them. Clips from those stories may be used during the airing of the documentary, which premieres Sept. 17.

Both Kernerman and O’Neill made a point to explain that the wall will remain open to visitors during the night and early morning hours, until it’s broken down at 4 p.m. Sunday.

“Half the people come just to pay tribute. But some people don’t want to be around people. They don’t want to be seen crying,” he said.

O’Neill, 49, whose own father served in the war as a Marine sniper, said he once watched a veteran sit on a bench staring at one of the names for three hours in the rain.

“I always tell people it’s a traveling novel,” he said. “It’s the same novel, but the stories are always different. Every time you think you heard them all, you hear a new one. The stories are just amazing.”

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