When it was last in the area, thousands turned out to pay their respects to those who sacrificed their lives during the war in Vietnam.
The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall returns to Niagara County on Wednesday when a motorcycle escort helps welcome the solemn structure to the grounds of the American Veterans Memorial at Niagara in Hyde Park, Niagara Falls.
Its weeklong stay, termed “Remembrance in Niagara” wraps up on July 16. An opening ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday and will feature State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, a Vietnam veteran who served for many years as a city court judge.
The traveling memorial is a 3/5 scale of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. It stands 6 feet tall at the center and covers almost 300 feet from end to end. It was created and is overseen by the Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard, or VVB, a non-profit organization located in Brevard County Florida. The organization’s website describes the traveling monument as “a reminder of the great sacrifices made during the Vietnam War” and indicates that its purpose is to help “heal and rekindle friendships and to allow people the opportunity to visit loved ones in their home town who otherwise may not be able to make the trip to Washington.”
The Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial Commission notes that vellum paper will be provided to those wishing to etch the names of loved ones.
In 2015, when the wall was erected in the Town of Lockport, former Niagara County Sheriff Thomas Beilein, a Vietnam veteran who served for four years as a medic in Germany, Vietnam and Fort Knox, Ky., pointed out several statistics about the wall during a keynote address.
Beilein noted that 61 percent of those who were killed were 21 years old or younger. Of those killed from Niagara County, 50 percent were either 21 or 22. There are five 16-year-olds and 12 17-year-olds, there is also a 15-year-old and a 62-year-old on the wall. Of those names on the wall, 17,725 were draftees, there are 41 sets of brothers and three sets of father and sons. On their very first day of service 997 were killed and 1,448 were killed on their very last day of service. The deaths from Niagara County touch all three cities and all but a couple of the townships, he said.
In addition to Thursday’s opening ceremony, Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial Commission members said on Friday the commission will salute local law enforcement with honor guards from various agencies lining the walkways leading to the monument.
The Hyde Park memorial, established in 2007 off Robbins Drive, has become a site for honorary military ceremonies, but Stan Zimmerman, a vice chairman with the Niagara Falls Veterans Commission, said last month that the Vietnam event takes on a special importance.
“This war was a very political war,” said Zimmerman, who also served during the Vietnam offensive. “We came home. We were told to take off our uniforms before we got in the country, because it was a political war not supported by everybody.
“But you honor the warrior. That’s what we’re doing, is we’re going to honor the warriors.”