TARBORO — An estimated 2,500 people trekked to Braswell Park in Tarboro for Thursday’s opening ceremony of The Wall That Heals, which featured a flyover by two F-16s from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, music by the U.S. Fleet Forces Band brass quintet, Norfolk, and a keynote address by retired U.S. Army Col. Walter Joseph “Joe” Marm Jr.
Marm was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of la Drang, which later was made famous in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers.”
The three-quarter replica of the Vietnam Memorial is being sponsored in Tarboro by the Edgecombe County Veterans Military Museum and will be open around the clock until 2 p.m. Sunday.
Marm told the audience about the fellow servicemen he personally knew whose names now are on the Vietnam Memorial and thanked his fellow Vietnam veterans in attendance for their service.
Crowds started arriving early, with more than 1,000 attendees prior to noon, and continued throughout the day, picking up after 4 p.m. and continuing into the evening despite falling temperatures.
License plates on vehicles parked in the various parking lots heavily were weighted toward North Carolina, but there also were vehicles from South Carolina, Virginia and a couple of vehicles with New Jersey plates.
Two Vietnam veterans from Charlotte said they saw an ad about The Wall That Heals in Our State magazine and decided to make the drive to Tarboro.
When one of the volunteers, wearing an orange vest, thanked them for coming and for their service, one said, “No, thank you all for bringing this so more people can see The Wall.”
Edgecombe County Veterans Military Museum President Donnie Hale said the event could not have happened without a number of volunteers.
“We just got it here,” he said. “This place was like an anthill yesterday with people — every single one of them a volunteer — working in the rain all day to get it set up on time. I can’t say enough about the volunteers, especially Town of Tarboro employees, who have taken this on as their own to make sure it reflects positively on our community.”
More than 200 volunteers from all walks of life are participating in hosting the project.
Hale said local merchants also have risen to the occasion, donating all types of supplies and materials — and money — to help ensure the visit of The Wall is a success.
“The folks at The Wall tell us to expect about 20,000 people,” Hale said. “Based on our first day’s numbers at 6 o’clock, I would say we’ve got a real good shot at that.”
The Wall That Heals is inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 American military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. Included are 38 names from Edgecombe County and 34 from Nash County. It is accompanied by a Mobile Education Center that includes a Vietnam timeline and a Wall of Heroes with photos of fallen and missing soldiers from Edgecombe County and each of the counties that connect to Edgecombe.
The Wall arrived in Tarboro late Tuesday afternoon, escorted by about 75 motorcycle riders from the Patriot Guard and American Legion Riders as well as about 50 law enforcement vehicles from agencies including the Tarboro Police Department, Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office, Nash County Sheriff’s Office, Rocky Mount Police Department, Nashville Police Department, Pitt County Sheriff’s Office and State Highway Patrol.