A wall of emotion
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media September 17, 2013 4:08PM
Updated: October 19, 2013 7:06PM
ELGIN — Bob and Brenda Dobek have seen a lot of grief in the past 3½ years.
The Iowa couple has been driving the semi-trailer that houses and transports “The Wall That Heals,” a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., since February 2010. In that time, Brenda said, the couple has brought the wall to 102 sites, spending nearly 10 months each year on the road.
There have been times, Brenda said, when the grief from surviving Vietnam War veterans — or the families of those killed in the war — has been so overwhelming that she had to walk away and ask her husband, Bob, a veteran himself, to talk to the family.
One man brought a picture with eight names on it — all buddies from Vietnam who were killed on one day in 1968 during the Tet Offensive.
“They lost 245 men in one day,” Brenda said. “That got to me. It overwhelmed me that 245 19-year-old kids were killed in one day.”
It is that grief which makes the wall — either the original in Washington or the replica traveling the country — so emotional for veterans, said Rick Grimm, one of the local co-chairmen of the Elgin visit.
“It will be emotional for some people,” Grimm said. “It will not be unusual to see Vietnam vets that will come to see it at 2 or 3 a.m., and they might not ever approach the wall or look for a name on there.”
The Wall That Heals came to downtown Elgin on Tuesday with a motorcade of Elgin fire and police, and riders from Warriors Watch and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.
The motorcade route started at 1:15 p.m. from Trout Park on the far north end of Elgin, drove down Dundee Avenue to Division Street, and ended at the city hall municipal parking lot.
Along that route, children from Elgin schools stood as the silent parade passed. Residents, some carrying and waving flags, also stood along various points in the route.
Elgin police officers blocked streets along the route to allow the solemn procession to pass.
Elgin’s four-day visit of the wall will officially open to the public starting at 5 a.m. Thursday, followed by an opening ceremony and posting of the colors at 10 a.m. that day at the Civic Center Plaza, between city hall at 150 Dexter Court and the Hemmens Cultural Arts Center.
A second ceremony and candlelight vigil honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action will take place at 7 p.m. Friday. More than 40 service personnel from the northern Fox Valley who died in Vietnam will be honored. The towns of Algonquin, Batavia, Carpentersville, Cary, Crystal Lake, Elgin, Geneva, Gilberts, Hampshire, Hanover Park, Huntley, St. Charles, South Elgin, Streamwood and Wayne will be represented, according to organizers of the event.
The Wall That Heals is one of six Vietnam Wall replicas that travel the country, Brenda explained, but it the only one that is directly affiliated with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which raised the money and got the site for the Washington, D.C. memorial.
Setup of the wall in Elgin begins Wednesday, and more volunteers to help are always needed, added Grimm.
While the wall is in Elgin, families and friends of those whose names are on the wall are invited to bring pictures of those men, Brenda added.
Of the 58,000 names on the memorial, so far the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund has captured about 32,000 of those faces. The photos are scanned on site and added to the collection.
The Wall That Heals is in Elgin as part of the Gail Borden Public Library District’s Big Read in the Northern Fox Valley program, focusing on the Vietnam War memoir “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. Special programs and events related to the book and the Vietnam era will take place through Nov. 11.
While The Wall That Heals is on display, services for veterans will be available near the memorial site. The Hines Veterans Mobile Vet Center will be near the wall from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. It will provide health services such as flu shots and checkups as well as have information about housing, health and employment resources.
Therapy Dogs Inc. and Delta Society will provide therapy dogs during the daytime in proximity of the Wall That Heals to provide comfort to visitors.