Volunteers prepare for the Wall

Published 11:02 pm Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Wall: The American Veterans Traveling Tribute includes a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that is 80 percent of the size of the original in Washington, D.C.

Is it ever possible to do enough to honor those who fought so valiantly for our country? The answer is a certain “No,” but the folks at R.W. Baker & Company Funeral Home and Crematory are definitely trying.

Assisted by hordes of volunteers and numerous sponsors, the historic business is bringing to Suffolk the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a mobile display that honors those throughout history who have sacrificed so greatly for America.

The exhibit will be open to the public Oct. 14-17 at Bennett’s Creek Park, 3000 Bennett’s Creek Park Road. More than 50,000 people are expected to attend the four-day event.

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The centerpiece of the memorial is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. At 80 percent the size of the original, it is the largest among the handful of traveling versions of the wall.

Volunteer Robin Magrisi, who is helping with publicity for the event, said she did not realize at first how many people who would like to visit the D.C. memorial have been unable to go. However, she has since realized that many people have a hard time — both physically and emotionally — getting there.

“A lot of people have a lot of difficulty going,” she said, recounting a conversation with one veteran who tried approaching the D.C. memorial four times before he made it. “It’s still not over, for lots of people.”

Others may be unable to make the three-hour car ride to Washington, she added.

The wall includes the names of more than 58,000 American service members who never arrived home alive from Vietnam. Of those, 1,304 were native Virginians and 344 came from Hampton Roads, according to Blake Baker, vice president of the funeral home.

At the park, a computerized database will be available to help visitors find the name they are seeking. Free rubbing sheets will be available for visitors to take home a memento of the wall.

But the event doesn’t honor only Vietnam veterans, Magrisi said.

“This is not just about Vietnam,” she said. “It does recognize and honor those who gave their lives in other military conflicts.”

The event also will bring to Suffolk memorials to World War II, the Korean War, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Fort Hood shooting, police and firefighters and more.

Prisoners of war and those who remain missing in action also will be honored at the site.

Though there is a modest schedule of events for each day that includes reveille, special music, speakers and a Sunday morning worship service, visitors are free to come and go at their leisure, Magrisi said.

A number of volunteers already are lined up, but more are always welcome, Magrisi said. Those who sign up will help with parking, the name database and general assistance to visitors.

The exhibit will be open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 14. Friday through Sunday, the park will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, including a complete schedule of events, visit www.freedomtribute.com.