AS A TEENAGER OF THE EARLY 1970s, the Vietnam War proved part of my life in the fringe sort of way war does when you’re an emerging adult.
Along with my too short hot pants ensemble and my shiny go-go boots, I sported a POW bracelet, the shiny medal banding my wrist with the name of an American soldier held captive by the Viet Cong. I wish I remembered his name or even what happened to that bracelet. It may be stashed away in a cardboard box in a closet. To even write that seems dishonorable. How could I not give more respect to a prisoner of war who deserved my gratitude?
This week I will have a local opportunity to honor those who died in the Vietnam War, the war from which veterans arrived home without a nation’s welcome. Protests prevailed. I remember.
Thankfully attitudes have changed. This Wednesday, the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall rolls into Faribault for a six-day stay at the Rice County Fairgrounds. I am grateful to the individuals, businesses and organizations—like the Faribault Elks, multiple American Legion Posts, the local VFW Post and the Marine Corps League—that worked hard to bring this 80 percent scale version of the wall here to southeastern Minnesota.
Perhaps my POW’s name is imprinted on that wall, among the 58,282 Americans who died in this war. I will search for one name, that of Benjamin Franklin Danielson whose fighter jet was shot down over Laos in 1969. I remember the media coverage when this Minnesota soldier’s remains were returned to his native Kenyon in 2007, several years after bone fragments were found to match his DNA. I expect many individuals will be looking for names of loved ones or classmates or others on this 360-foot long by eight foot high replica wall.
But before the temporary memorial goes up on the north side of Faribault, it will arrive in my community of 23,000 Wednesday afternoon under escort by law enforcement, fire department personnel, bikers and others in private vehicles. Organizers emphasize that this is not a parade but rather a solemn procession. Those living aside the route from Owatonna along County Road 45 to Medford and then into Faribault are encouraged to line the roadway with American flags and to show their support.
I live along the processional route. Those who know me personally and would like to join me in my front yard are welcome to do so. Dress in patriotic attire and bring American flags and patriotic items plus a lawn chair. I expect the entourage to pass my home around 3:20 – 3:30 p.m.
At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, the traveling wall debuts with a grand opening ceremony. The memorial remains open 24/7 until the closing ceremony at 1 p.m. on Labor Day. What a great opportunity this will be for us, as a community, as a county, as Minnesotans, as Americans, to honor those like Benjamin Danielson and my unidentified POW. Decades after I clamped that POW bracelet around my wrist, I understand the significance of this opportunity.
FYI: Many related events are planned in conjunction with the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall exhibit in Faribault. Click here to learn details. And click here to learn about the original memorial wall in Washington, DC.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling