Merced County Times Newspaper
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Times Photos by Jonathan Whitaker

Merced Welcomes ‘The Wall That Heals’

 

More than 100 motorcycle riders, many of them military veterans, escorted a big rig carrying the “The Wall That Heals” into town on Tuesday afternoon in a patriotic display to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War.

The Wall That Heals is a three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that stands in Washington D.C., bearing the names of the 58,281 men and women who died in Vietnam.

This year, nearly 100 communities vied for the privilege of hosting The Wall That Heals tour, and the campus of Merced College was among the 33 sites selected.

Opening ceremonies will be held on the campus front lawn Thursday, March 28, starting at 10 a.m., with elected leaders, members of the Merced Sunrise Rotary who led the effort to bring the wall to Merced, and keynote speaker, Admiral Michael Seward, USCG (ret) of Hilmar.

The memorial is free to visit, and will be open to visitors 24 hours a day until the afternoon of March 31. A bugler is expected to play TAPS at sunset during the stay.

“As the son of a Vietnam veteran myself, I am so thankful of the service that many of you have given,” said Chris Vitelli, the president of Merced College, to the hundreds of participants in Tuesday’s motorcade. “I’m very honored we are going to have the opportunity to educate this community, and invite so many onto this campus who haven’t had the privilege or honor of having seen it in Washington, D.C. They get to see it right here in Merced. A huge thank you goes to Sunrise Rotary. … Please share with your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, your family members — to come and experience this and honor those who have served before us and gave us the freedoms that we have today.”

Merced Police Chief Steven Stanfield, driving in an official cruiser with a new red, white and blue logo, along with six motorcycle officers on their bikes, led the procession of riders from Atwater to Merced.

“It was a wonderful ride,” Chief Stanfield said, “with great community support all along the way. We are so happy the memorial has come to Merced.”

One rider, Jeremy Retzlaff, told the Times: “I think people need to take initiative and show that they appreciate things in life … So as far as the veterans, they’ve made things possible for us today. If it’s just being able to take 20 minutes, 30 minutes out of your day, it’s something.”

In Atwater, City Councilman John Cale was in awe with the number of motorcycles and people who showed up to welcome the memorial at the procession’s starting point. “My last count was almost 200,” he said. “We recognize that not everybody was welcome home when they came back from Vietnam. Today we’re going to try to heal those wounds, whether we’ve seen the wounds or we haven’t seen the wounds.”

Cale also told the motorcyclists: “It’s awesome that you are all here to show Merced County, in this ride, how healing begins and continues.”

Later, at Merced College, Ride Captain Adam Conour read off the names of the 46 soldiers from Merced County who perished during the Vietnam War. One of them was Lt. Peter Gallo of Livingston who died in 1968. His name is on the wall panel 47E, Line 10. He is also the namesake of the Veterans Resource Center at Merced College which continues to support military, veterans, and their families.

The Wall That Heals event in Merced is sponsored by Mike and Lori Gallo, as well as Linda and Kenny Jelacich. It’s also a community service project of the Merced Sunrise Rotary Club.

The installation will be located at the corner of M Street and Yosemite Avenue. Crafted from synthetic granite, the replica was created to closely mirror the well-known chevron-shaped layout of the original memorial in Washington, D.C. Visitors will have the chance to create rubbings of the names of service members etched onto The Wall, a gesture allowing loved ones to carry a tangible piece of remembrance with them.

The Wall That Heals is curated by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the nonprofit that runs the monument in Washington D.C.

Visitors are encouraged to make a stop at the mobile Education Center — part of the wall exhibit — where they can learn more about the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall, and American history at that time. Digital photo displays, educational exhibits, a replica of the In-Memory plaque, and much more will be on display.

 

More details:
  • Friday, March 29 — National Vietnam War Veterans Day Ceremony, 10 a.m. – 10:45 a.m., with Congressman John Duarte, the Gallo family, and local elected officials. Keynote speaker: Al Osborn, USAF/Vietnam Veteran of Merced. Special presentation by Daughters of the American Revolution to The Gallo Family in memorial of 1st Lt Peter J. Gallo. From 6:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., there will be a U.S. Army Candlelight Ceremony and reading of names of fallen heroes from Merced County.
  • Sunday, March 31 — Closing Ceremony at 1:30 p.m.
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