As many Oklahomans celebrated the veterans in their lives this Veterans Day, some are remembering soldiers who never came home. The Wall That Heals, a Vietnam War Memorial, is in town for one weekend only.
Engraved with the names of 58,000 men and women who died in the Vietnam War, the wall is a travel-sized version of the one in Washington, D.C., and it allows local loved ones and brothers in battle to pay their respects.
Bobbie Washington visited the wall to see her brother’s name, Donald Leroy Washington.
“When I see this, I still think about him and it doesn’t seem like he’s been gone that long either,” Washington said.
The Oklahoma City native, Donald was drafted into the Vietnam War a year after graduating from Douglass High School. At just 20 years old, he died from injuries sustained in battle. Bobbie was 18.
“The day that I saw the green car and the man from the Army and the local pastor coming, I was sitting on the front porch,” Washington recalled.
Seeing Donald's name on the wall brings the memories flooding back.
“We were so close,” Bobbie said. “I was just a year behind him.”
Donald is among 988 Oklahomans whose names are engraved on The Wall That Heals. Escorted by Patriot Guard riders, the traveling stone slabs were installed at the Oklahoma History Center on Wednesday.
“Our hearts are filled with joy and with sorrow. It’s a bittersweet mission,” said Phil Lutes, a Patriot Guard rider.
Among the riders were Vietnam veterans who are connected to those on the wall.
“It’s a great honor because it’s honoring the ones that didn’t get to come back with us,” said Roger Ayers.
“They might have been right next to them when it happened or they were in a firefight with them, or they saw them leave camp and they didn’t come back,” added Steve Hawkins, Marketing Director for the Oklahoma History Center.
The wall's arrival aligns with the launch of a new permanent exhibit at the History Center, dedicated to Oklahomans fighting in the Vietnam War.
“We have an exhibit in there with dog tags made for each one of the Oklahoma fallen, and it’s quite impressive, quite emotional,” Hawkins said.
Surviving veterans, like Thomas Galbraith, say they are glad that others get the chance to see the impact of war for themselves.
“It’s a huge honor, especially for it to be here during Veterans Day,” said Galbraith.
The wall leaves for its next stop Sunday at 2 p.m. It is open and free to the public any time until then.