During what is known as the Vietnam Era — Aug. 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975 — a total of 2,709,918 American men and women served in Vietnam, including more than 200,000 from North Carolina.
For the great majority, tours to Vietnam largely were uneventful, but for 58,220 Americans, their lives ended on the soils of southeast Asia.
Of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, 1,606 were from North Carolina, with 1,302 killed in action and the remainder dying of war-related causes. Thirty-eight were from Edgecombe County and 34 from Nash County.
For many, there never has been closure.
Even though the Vietnam Memorial has existed since Nov. 13, 1982, a variety of factors may have contributed to the inability of some to go — distance, time and cost, to name three.
But now, another option for closure exists with the impending arrival of the only traveling Wall associated with the Vietnam Memorial.
The Wall That Heals, a three-quarter replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., will open at 9 a.m. Thursday at Braswell Park in Tarboro. Admission to The Wall, which will be open around the clock until 2 p.m. Sunday, is free. As many as 20,000 visitors are expected over the three days.
Escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders, The Wall will depart Lowe’s in Rocky Mount at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, traveling through Pinetops, Conetoe and Princeville before entering Tarboro on Western Boulevard off U.S. 64.
Firefighters from Tarboro and Pinetops will salute The Wall with American flags flying from their ladder trucks as it heads to Braswell Park.
Construction of The Wall will begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
The opening ceremony is at 5 p.m. Thursday and will feature a flyover from Seymour Johnston Air Base, the U.S. Navy Fleet Band from Norfolk and a keynote address by Medal of Honor winner Col. Walter Marm Jr. of Wayne County.
The Wall That Heals is being brought to eastern North Carolina by the Edgecombe County Veterans Military Museum. It is the only time in 2019 that it will visit North Carolina or be in close proximity to the region. Tarboro is the 30th stop of the 34-stop tour that concludes on Nov. 18.
“For many in our region, the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington has never presented itself,” said museum President Donnie Hale, a Vietnam veteran. “We hope bringing The Wall That Heals to Tarboro will afford them that chance and offer them the opportunity for some closure.”
The Wall will be open around the clock with volunteers on hand to assist visitors as needed.
The Wall is 375 feet long and stands 7.5 feet tall at its apex. With the replica at this size, visitors are able to experience The Wall rising above them as they walk toward the apex, a key feature of the design of the Wall in D.C.
Like the original memorial, The Wall That Heals is erected in a chevron shape and visitors are able to do name rubbings of individual service members’ names on it. The names are listed in order of date of casualty and alphabetically on each day. Beginning at the center or apex, the names start on the East Wall on the right-hand side and work their way out to the end of that wing, picking up again at the far end of the West Wall on the left-hand side and working their way back in to the center.
The first and last casualties are side by side at the apex of the memorial.
The replica is constructed of Avonite, a synthetic granite, and its 144 individual panels are supported by an aluminum frame. Modern LED lighting from the top of The Wall provides readability at night.
The mobile Education Center includes video displays that teach about the history and effect of The Wall and of the collection of items representative of those left at The Wall in D.C.; educational exhibits told through items in the collection; a map of Vietnam; and a chronological overview of the Vietnam War. The exhibits tell the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall and the era surrounding the conflict and are designed to put American experiences in Vietnam in a historical and cultural context.
Nearly 400,000 people visited The Wall That Heals exhibit in 2018. Since its debut in 1996, the exhibit has been on display in more than 500 U.S. communities in addition to an April 1999 tour of the Four Provinces of Ireland and a visit to Canada in 2005. Hosting The Wall That Heals provides a community with a multi-day experience that includes an educational experience for local schools and organizations on the history of the Vietnam era and The Wall.