The wall helped heal a community

The healing made possible by the visit of The Wall That Heals to Warren was much greater and further-reaching than we ever could have imagined. From the initial idea through fruition, this project has had amazing support from our veterans and local community. The reverent feeling that one gets when visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington was thought to be exclusive to that national monument, or that the mobile replica would pale in comparison.

From the first day we saw nearly 400 motorcyclists escort the wall to Warren, we knew this would be something bigger. As I walked through the sea of motorcycles in search of a friend to carry the POW / MIA flag to Warren, the outpouring of fellowship and sense of community warmed the soul. Even though many came with individual motorcycle groups, they rode together as brothers and sisters on the final leg to Warren.

Upon arrival, this city opened her arms with a reception that has not been seen in decades. Streets were lined with first responders, and people proudly waving American flags as the 10 minute long motorcade passed beneath an American flag raised by our firefighters. Proud veterans presented salutes. The motorcade continued to the south lawn of Packard Park. While watching the 400-plus embrace each other, I realized the Wall belongs here at home with the family and friends of the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in a land far from home.

In the next 24 hours, the wall would take shape with military precision from volunteers young and old. What took place here was no less than remarkable, turning the small grassy plain into a magnificent cathedral. Even before the work was complete, word was spreading throughout the city that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial had risen on the South Lawn.

Then you came — by the thousands — over the next five days. Families, friends, classmates, sweethearts, veteran brothers and sisters and members of our community came to pay respects and say thank you to more than 58,000 men and women who gave their lives and also to celebrate the lives of the more than 60 men from our community with the ones they loved, sharing childhood memories, the high school friendships, the first sweetheart, the last prom dance and a never-ending amount of loving memories. You shared your lost loved ones with an entire community and that community embraced you with loving arms.

In the shadow of the 58,318 names of our young fighting men and women, we wept together for their loss. Then in the next moment, we replaced tears with a smile of a fond memory as if it were yesterday. The wall became a sanctuary, a safe place for sharing and fellowship. A reverent place where we became joined together as one — with no division, no prejudices, no hatred, but only love and compassion for our fellow man.

The visit of The Wall That Heals closed with almost 60 families gathered for the laying of the roses ceremony to allow family and friends pay a farewell tribute with a rose, as is tradition at the Tombs of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery.

I am eternally grateful for the local men and women who gave so much of themselves to make sure that the members of our community lost in Vietnam and their families will never be forgotten and for making the wall’s visit an overwhelming success.

As I reflect on the week, I realize that The Wall That Heals did just what its name implies — and it didn’t pale in comparison, but actually accomplished something the national monument couldn’t.

The Wall That Heals brought with it not only healing for the families who lost loved ones, but also healing for our entire community. I discovered a new-found hope for our society and mankind in a much-needed time in our community and nation.

Valesky was instrumental in bringing The Wall That Heals to Warren last month. He is president of the Warren Heritage Center.