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Visit the Wall, and listen to the stories

Frederick Heriaud name wall. | Denise Crosby~Sun-Times Media

Frederick Heriaud name on wall. | Denise Crosby~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 9, 2013 11:04AM

Al Heriaud couldn’t wait for the Moving Wall’s opening ceremony Friday morning.

Nor could he wait for the public viewing to begin just hours after the Vietnam Veteran Memorial was constructed.

No, Heriaud, a longtime Aurora civic leader and businessman, had to be at West Aurora High School bright and early Thursday morning when the memorial arrived at the school. He wanted to watch it get built from the ground up. He wanted to be there to put panel 3E into place.

That chunk of the somber black memorial includes the name of his brother, Army Pfc. Frederick Heriaud, who became the first casualty from this area when he was killed on Nov. 17, 1965, in Ia Drang Valley. The Yorkville High graduate was buried a few weeks later on his 21st birthday.

“He was my brother, my friend,” said Heriaud, who, three years older, had tried to enlist with his sibling but was turned down because of a previous injury.

Heriaud and his youngest brother Ed, only 5 when the family received word Freddie had been killed, were part of a large crowd that gathered to welcome the Wall and watch its construction. When this replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., had come to Aurora in 1989, both brothers were out of town and unable to see it.

“So this is a special moment,” said the elder Heriaud, who also showed me a beautiful Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Coin that was issued by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The silver dollar is engraved with a picture of a hand on a panel of the wall that contains the names of 12 young men who did not return, his brother included.

It’s no wonder Heriaud has purchased a dozen of these special coins. It’s no wonder he brought one to the site of the memorial on Thursday, along with other mementos honoring his brother. While he still mourns the loss of this soldier, Al Heriaud is also filled with pride. Frederick, he said, had a choice of returning home the day he was killed, but instead volunteered to stay on for Operation Silver Bayonet. He lost his life in a 16-hour battle, as did a couple hundred others, in what became one of the deadliest ambushes of a U.S. unit in the entire Vietnam War.

Heriaud’s experience is but one of many powerful stories that can and should be heard as our community embarks upon this remarkable four-day event centering around the Moving Wall. In the parking lot at Two Brothers Roundhouse earlier that day, more than 200 motorcycle riders from about a half dozen local groups had gathered to escort the memorial to the high school. Members of the Warrenville-based Rolling Thunder told me their main purpose is to focus on POWs and MIAs, especially a 23-year-old soldier from Iowa by the name of Sgt. Bowe Robert Bergdahl, who has been held captive by the Taliban since June 30, 2009, and who has received little press, despite repeated threats of execution from the enemy.

Whatever you can do to get his name and plight out there, they begged.

And so I shall, by asking you to go to

I also urge you, if at all possible, to visit this remarkable exhibit while it is here. I guarantee emotions will overwhelm you when you gaze upon the dozens of dark panels that seem to stretch on forever, each etched with thousands of names. Each name a son or brother or father or uncle or classmate or friend. And behind each one is a story of love and loss, of heroism and patriotism.

“So many names ... and for what purpose?” asked Annie Reyna, whose Aurora family is filled with three generations of veterans, including her 26-year-old son Daniel, who died suddenly while serving in Germany.

“They fought for a reason,” replied her husband, Ricardo, a Korean War veteran, “so the enemy does not come to us.”

His wife heard him but did not respond. Instead, she sat quietly on a park bench across from the memorial, unsmiling, staring straight ahead at the cold black marble.

“I am still waiting,” she told me, “to find out why my son died.”

Indeed, there are so many stories, not only on this wall but at it. Too many to give the attention they deserve.

If you are lucky, you will hear some of them when you make your visit.

But even if you talk to no one, I promise you will come away enriched. All you have to do is stand in front of The Wall.

It will speak to you.

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