Hundreds of motorcycle riders are expected to escort a traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall exhibit when it arrives in Columbus on Thursday morning for a five-day stay that’s expected to draw 100,000 people.
The Moving Wall, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, will be on display through 10 a.m. July 31 at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds. The actual memorial, which includes the names of 58,315 individuals who lost their lives during the Vietnam War, was dedicated 35 years ago.
A trailer used to transport the smaller Moving Wall will travel through Columbus on a 12-mile parade route. The exhibit will be escorted by motorcycle riders representing organizations such as the Eagle Riders, ABATE and others as it makes its way to the fairgrounds, American Legion Post 24 commander Al McKown said.
Motorcycle riders who are interested in joining the parade route are asked to be at the staging area of Sam’s Club, 2715 Merchant’s Mile, by 8 a.m., he said.
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McKown said members of the public are encouraged to show their support by holding up American flags, which will be distributed to downtown businesses located near the parade route. Individuals can also pick up flags this week at the American Legion, 2515 25th St., in advance of the parade, he said.
The parade is meant to show support for U.S. service members who lost their lives fighting in current and past wars, he said.
“It’s going to be quite a sight,” McKown said of the exhibit, which has been touring the country since 1984.
There will be no charge to see the Moving Wall, which will be on display 24 hours a day, although free-will donations will be accepted.
The American Legion in Columbus launched a campaign in December to raise nearly $64,000 to bring the exhibit to Bartholomew County, but the post is still seeking $12,000 to meet its goal. Donations will be accepted throughout the five-day local display, which was last in Columbus at the Columbus Municipal Airport in 2002.
Once the exhibit arrives at the fairgrounds and is constructed, it is expected to open to the public between noon and 1 p.m. Thursday. A 6 p.m. opening ceremony will be conducted that evening with Mayor Jim Lienhoop scheduled to speak.
The exhibit is transported around the country on a 24-foot trailer pulled by a heavy-duty truck, said Kim Chen, who visits different cities with her husband Paul. Six boxes contain the 74 panels that make up the wall, which takes anywhere from two and a half to three hours to assemble with the help of at least 20 volunteers, Chen said.
Each panel weighs about 40 pounds and is attached at the exhibit’s base, which will be set up at the fairgrounds before pieces of the wall are put together, Chen said.
Chen spends much of the year on the road with her husband from April to November transporting the wall to cities across the country.
She said visitors will be able to get name etchings and said it is common for people to leave items such as photos at the wall.
Anything left at the site is collected at the end of the exhibit’s display and sent a warehouse in Michigan, where the wall is stored during the winter months. The items are kept for archival purposes and labeled with the date, year and location of where they came from, she said.
Chen said she enjoys traveling the country and seeing people have the opportunity to view the half-size replica of the wall in person.
“It may be the first time healing for a veteran or it may be a family member who’s never been to Washington,” Chen said. “It’s very gratifying to share the wall with everyone.”
Speakers from the military are scheduled at noon and 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, said Rhonda Taggart, who has helped organize the event. T-shirts will also be sold commemorating the Moving Wall and military branches as well.
“It will be a solemn event,” she said.
Other than the exhibit, speakers, a Huey helicopter that served in Vietnam and an obstacle course will also be available for the public, McKown said.
A separate exhibit honoring fallen military members after 9/11 will be in the Family Arts Building at the 4-H Fairgrounds for viewing as well.
McKown said the wall will give young people an opportunity to learn about the Vietnam War.
And he expects the experience of visiting the wall for many individuals will be a moving one.
“It’s somewhat of a sobering thing to visit and also historical,” McKown said.
What: Traveling Vietnam Veterans Wall exhibit
Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, 750 W. County Road 200 S, Columbus
Admission: Free, with donations being accepted
When: Thursday through 10 a.m. July 31, open 24 hours a day, with special programs as follows.
6 p.m. Thursday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Philharmonic Youth Orchestra Ensemble, remarks by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, benediction by retired minister Ed Boone, three-volley salute and taps by American Legion Post 24 color guard.
Noon Friday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, invocation by Brian Graves of Garden City Christian Church, remarks by Brig. Gen. Ronald A. Westfall, taps by Caleb Bray.
6 p.m. Friday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Philharmonic Youth Orchestra Ensemble, remarks by Lt. Col. Cathleen A. Van Bree, benediction by military chaplain Reeves Flint, taps by American Legion Post 24 color guard.
Noon Saturday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by John Tasca, invocation by John Marquis of Central Heights Church of God, remarks by Col. Roger D. Peterman (retired), taps by Caleb Bray.
6 p.m. Saturday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, remarks by Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger (retired), benediction by John Sichting of New Hope Baptist Church, taps by Caleb Bray.
Noon July 30: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, invocation by retired minister Jerry Curry, remarks by Lt. Col. Kenny Freeman (retired), taps by Caleb Bray.
6 p.m. July 30: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, remarks by Staff Sgt. Michael Thompson, benediction by Dan Cash of First Baptist Church, three-volley salute and taps by American Legion Post 24 color guard