WHITEFISH – More than 58,000 names scratched into metal show the true costs of one of America’s deadliest conflicts – the Vietnam War.
This week, a half-scale replica of Washington D.C.’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial traveled to Whitefish for its first-ever visit to the Flathead Valley. The Whitefish Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 276 and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund organized the display that went from Thursday to Sunday.
“The Wall That Heals” is one of five replicas that travel throughout the country and was first unveiled by the memorial fund in 1996. It cost the Whitefish VFW about $5,000 and nearly a year of planning to bring the wall to the Flathead. It arrived last week and was set up on Wednesday, Aug. 21. According to organizer Lt. Col. Kelly Kuigne, it took all day to set up the display and nearly four hours to set up the wall itself. The wall is approximately 250 feet long and, like the original, shaped like a chevron. It is made up of 24 individual powder-coated aluminum panels, each containing six columns of names.
The display also included a mobile museum and counseling services for visiting veterans. Ed Croucher, a former marine and state commander of the Montana VFW, led small ceremonies each day the wall was open to the public. Croucher served three tours in Vietnam and said seeing the wall is an emotional experience.
“It’s hallowed ground. These are more than just names. There is a person behind each name. All of these lives were cut short and they didn’t get to experience the things I got to experience,” he said. “This cuts me to the bone. I walk up to it and cry every time.”
Dennis Dreyer is post commander for the Whitefish VFW and served as a personnel clerk in Vietnam from January 1969 to October 1970. Dreyer’s job was to process paperwork, approve discharges and keep track of personnel information. Many of the names on the wall are familiar to him.
“I look at these names and I remember processing so many of them,” he said.
Kuigne said he was unsure how many people had visited the wall in Whitefish, which was set up next to the Grouse Mountain Lodge, but that the turnout had been impressive. Visitors and veterans slowly walked along the wall reading names and paying their respects. One person even brought a beer and left it at the base of the memorial for a fallen friend.
“They greet each other like brothers and sisters, it’s a very powerful experience for a lot of people,” Croucher said.
The Whitefish VFW post is accepting donations to cover the cost of the display, according to Kuigne. Donations can be sent or dropped off to Post 276 at 20 Baker Ave., Whitefish. For more information about the wall call (406) 862-4949 or visit www.vvmf.org/twth.
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