Traveling Monument A Memorial To Those Who Died In Vietnam War

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A traveling exhibit brings a national memorial to the edge of Ohio University’s campus in Athens.

The Wall That Heals is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Athens residents and others from across the region are gathering this week to mourn loved ones, or even to pay their respects to strangers. 

Maya Lin’s famous monument returned to her hometown once again, bringing a chance for closure, healing and remembering the 58,000 men and women who were killed during the Vietnam War.

The wall was escorted into town Tuesday with a motorcade of over 150 motorcycle riders, first responders and others as it made its way from Nelsonville to The Plains, then up Court Street. It will remain until Sunday.

Robert Van Nest, whose stepbrother died in the Vietnam War, helped assemble the traveling monument in Athens and placed the panel with his stepbrother’s name on it. [Taylor Burnette | WOUB]
This version of the memorial is supported by only two full-time staff members, said Dean Murphy, a site manager for The Wall That Heals. 

“It takes about 40 volunteers or better to install the wall,” he said. “We cannot do it by ourselves. If it was not for them, we could not do it. A number of them return, bringing their families, and will walk along the walls. … They actually get a little time to reflect.”

Along with the volunteers, the Ohio University wrestling team also turned out on Wednesday evening to help put up the wall.

The names on the wall are sorted by the date they were killed, and are in alphabetical order for each day. For many visiting, they may be scanning for a specific name, while others know right where to go. 

In addition to the wall, the exhibit features a traveling museum featuring a number of items left at the Washington, D.C., memorial, alongside information about people from each area the museum travels to, changing depending on the place.

On the wall, there are 31 names listed of people killed in action from Athens County.

Robert Van Nest is one of many people from Athens County directly affected by the Vietnam War. His stepbrother Frank Miller Jr. was killed in action. Van Nest was 15, and Miller was deployed at only 18.

“Things didn’t go well,” Van Nest said. “He lasted just over a month.”

Van Nest was never really worried about Frank when he left home, because he was a good shot, but says his death left a lifelong impact on him.

He made it a goal to continue honoring the memory of people from Athens County who lost their lives. 

“That’s what I want the most, is for them to be remembered,” Van Nest said. “So I put their names and faces up everywhere I can.”

As he browsed the memorial, Van Nest clutched a white binder filled with handwritten notes and photos about the deceased from Athens County, which he collects in any way he can. On his Facebook page, he posts about each of the people on their birthdays and the day they were killed in action.

He helped assemble the wall on Wednesday, and placed the panel with his stepbrother’s name on it. When he isn’t volunteering, he is still at the wall, taking rubbings of his stepbrother’s name along with the others from Athens County who were killed. 

People come to the wall looking for all sorts of things, from commemorating all of the people who served to to seeing the name of a relative they never got the chance to mourn.

Some veterans come with a chair and some beers, said Amy Sproutz, the marketing manager at the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau. They’ll often leave a cold one or two at the memorial to “have a beer” with the friends they lost in combat.

For volunteers like Steve Chiki, the wall is a reminder of the nation’s past and treating people with compassion.

“It reminds me of what took place,” he said. “It was a time nobody liked. It’s called the healing wall, and it’s to remind people they are not to hate the warrior, (but) you can hate the war.”

The wall is open 24 hours a day until 2 p.m. Sunday, with volunteers on hand even into the late hours of the night to teach and answer questions. Saturday at 7 a.m. there will be a roll call of those killed from Athens County. For those interested in visiting the memorial, there is parking at Ohio University’s Convocation Center.