The Wall that Heals, the half-size travelling replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., will be in Elgin later this month as part of the Gail Borden Public Library's Big Read of "The Things They Carried." | Photo courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Updated: October 7, 2013 12:37PM
ELGIN — Seeing the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., was a solemn event for Jack Darr.
“It is very sobering and thought-provoking of a past era in time and the history of America,” said Darr, a retired Elgin police officer. He has seen the memorial a few times, including the Women’s Memorial that later was erected in Washington, D.C.
Darr and Rick Grimm hope that veterans, their families and area residents without military connections also can feel some of the power of the Vietnam Memorial. The two are local co-chairs for The Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The wall will be on display in downtown Elgin from Sept. 19 to 22.
The memorial is coming as part of Gail Borden Public Library’s Big Read in the Northern Fox Valley. The library is asking residents to read — and discuss at one of several planned discussions in the community — the novel “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. The author uses his personal experience as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam and the stories if his comrades there — with dose of fictionalization — to illustrate those things he and other soldiers kept with them to remind themselves of home.
The wall is scheduled to arrive at 1 p.m. on Sept. 17 at Trout Park, then follow a motorcade of Elgin police and fire vehicles and motorcycle riders to the Civic Center Plaza, between city hall and the Hemmens Cultural Arts Center.
Children from local schools are being asked to stand along the route as the convoy passes.
Then, while the memorial is in Elgin, it will be staffed 24 hours a day with volunteers who will not only watch the wall but ensure that residents with questions can find answers, too.
“There will be people available, if someone needs help to find someone on the wall … or have questions, or just want to talk,” Darr said.
He expects many veterans who just want to talk about the wall. “There are people who have never seen the wall, and won’t go to it because of the emotions of it,” Darr said.
To help with that staffing, volunteers are needed, said Miriam Lytle, the library’s director of community services.
Those volunteers don’t have to be veterans, she added, but anyone willing to work to maintain the solemn nature of the memorial.
“Seeing the wall is a sobering, solemn event, and you need to be respectful of the names and the lives that were given up for the rest of us,” Darr said. “There is no smoking allowed, no food, no alcohol, no drinks except water, no music, no skates, no cellphones. It should be a somber atmosphere. We are paying homage to the people in the wall and those who served.”
Staff from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which curates the wall, will be there as well during the four-day visit. Anyone with photos that match a name on the wall — servicemen and women listed as killed or missing in action — are asked to bring them, said Lytle. Staff can then scan those photos into a database and give the photo back.
According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, “the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is creating a truly personal experience by matching a photo and a face to every one of the more than 58,000 names on The Wall. Please help. Bring photos of your friends, family members, and combat buddies to The Wall That Heals,” the website states.
An opening ceremony for the wall’s Elgin visit is set for 10 a.m. Sept. 19 at the plaza. A POW/MIA ceremony is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 20. The closing ceremony will be at 4 p.m. Sept. 22.
Residents also are invited to hear Big Read keynote speaker Deborah Grassman beginning at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at Judson University’s Marjorie Thulin Performance Hall, 1151 N. State St. (Route 31). Grassman, according to a release from the library, “has worked with caregivers, family members and veterans themselves to understand the impact of war and military culture.”
Both Darr and co-chair Grimm served in Vietnam, but both said they never got involved in veterans organizations until recently. Both joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars Watch City Post in Elgin in the last few years.
Darr, 65, was a U.S. Air Force medic, and served in 1971-72.
Grimm, 68, was on temporary duty in Vietnam with the Air Force in 1965. He didn’t see combat, Grimm noted, and was stationed in Saigon.
“I was support, I wasn’t in the field,” Grimm said. “I see these kids come home (from Iraq or Afghanistan) now … . I get really broken up to see that young kids doing things over there I had done many, many years ago. They are there, putting their lives on the line.”