Sunday, August 24, 2003

'Vietnam wall' coming to Florence

Half-size replica of memorial travels across nation

By Brenna R. Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Harold B. Deatherage isn't sure how he'll react when he sees the large black wall standing across from the Florence city building.

"It's going to be very emotional," he said.

Though Deatherage saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. several years ago, the Vietnam veteran couldn't bring himself to get near it.

This time he has no choice.

Deatherage will be unpacking, installing and volunteering at The Moving Wall, a traveling half-size replica of the Washington, D.C. memorial, during its seven-day stay in Florence.

"I am going to be confronted with it," said Deatherage, chairman of the Boone County Veterans Memorial Association, who has been working for two years to bring the 253-foot wall to Florence.

"I wanted to do something a little different for the community," he said. "I wanted to be a part of it."

The Moving Wall was created in 1984 to share the experience of the permanent Vietnam Veterans Memorial with people who could not visit Washington, D.C. Two walls have been touring the country ever since. The wall will go up at the Florence Government Center Thursday and be taken down on Sept. 4.

The wall has come to the Cincinnati area several times: in 2000 it was in Cincinnati, in 1999 it was in Ft. Mitchell and in 1993 it was in Newport.

The Boone County veterans association has recruited about 400 volunteers to staff the wall during its stay in Florence.

"It's just unbelievable," said Butch Carr, who is coordinating the volunteers. In addition to Boone County, people from Grant County, Campbell County, and Ohio have volunteered.

"A lot of people knew someone who was in the Vietnam War," he said. "A lot are just people who volunteer. They just want to help."

Volunteers will use computers to help visitors locate a name on the wall of 58,228 names.

The wall will be open 24 hours a day and staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"A lot of Vietnam veterans like to go in the middle of the night when they can be alone," Deatherage said.

In preparation, a platform was built and lighting and electrical wiring was installed to light the wall at night. Flag poles, blacktop and landscaping also were added. There will be golf carts and wheelchairs for the elderly and disabled.

Numerous groups and individuals donated money to bring the wall to Florence. Target donated $3,800, the Boone County Businessmen donated $2,000, and the City of Florence is donating the site and labor, Deatherage said. The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport donated a stage for the ceremonies.

"We had to do a lot of begging," he said. "But the community has stepped up."

However, the veterans association still needs to raise $3,000 to cover the cost.

During the wall's stay, Deatherage said he plans to find a few names on it himself, including Boone County native Sgt. Charles Fleek.

Fleek, of Petersburg, was 21 when he died in Vietnam. During a fierce battle, Sgt. Fleek threw himself on a grenade to save his squad. Fleek was awarded the Medal of Honor, which is the nation's highest honor. It has been awarded 936 times since World War I.

If you go

What: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall

Where: Florence Government Center, 8100 Ewing Blvd.

When: Thursday through Sept. 3.

Opening ceremonies: Friday, 7 p.m.

Closing ceremonies: Sept. 3, 7 p.m.



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