Remembrance and healing

MARSHALL – It’s been 42 years, but Mark Madsen said he still remembers the day he left Granite Falls on a Greyhound bus to join the Air Force. At the time the U.S. was fighting in the Vietnam War, and though Madsen himself wasn’t an in-country veteran, he said two of his squadron members have their names engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“I carry those two names,” said Madsen, a Minnesota member of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Madsen is not alone. A large crowd of people were gathered at Independence Park on Friday evening, quietly searching for names engraved on a line of reflective black panels standing on the grass. This was the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, a scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The wall is open to the public, and will be in Marshall through Sunday. At an opening ceremony Friday, speakers reflected on the meaning of the memorial wall, and the lost lives it represented.

There are more than 58,000 names on the wall. That’s more than four times the population of Marshall, said Bruce Knieff, chairman of the local committee that brought the Traveling Wall to Marshall.

“That’s a lot of people,” Knieff said. Each one was a U.S. serviceman or woman who died in the Vietnam War.

Friday’s ceremony gave special recognition to 39 of those servicepeople, who were all from area towns, from Willmar south to Worthington. A bell was tolled as Cy Molitor read each man’s name.

Greg Welch, manager of the Vietnam Traveling Wall, said the wall’s purpose is to heal. It’s about children learning about their families, and families remembering lost loved ones, he said.

“Most importantly, this wall is about the Vietnam veteran,” he said. Welch said for many veterans, coming to the wall is taking a first step in a healing process.

“We will not let them be forgotten,” Welch said of the servicepeople who gave their lives in the Vietnam War.

“The wall does many different things for many different people,” Knieff told the crowd. But, he said, it’s always an emotionally powerful experience.

One of the experiences that stood out the most for him was a memory of when the Traveling Memorial Wall came to Hanley Falls in 2009. Knieff said he asked a crying woman if he could help her. She replied that she had come to the wall to say goodbye to her husband, who was killed in the Vietnam War.

“She took her wedding ring off and laid it on the base of that wall. And I cried as hard as she did,” Knieff said.