Vietnam Wall: Replica dedicated in Layton Commons Park

by Becky GINOS LAYTON—The Vietnam War was a long and controversial conflict. But for those who served – and died there – a long awaited “thank you” was dedicated in their honor last week. A replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. now stands in Layton Commons Park in remembrance of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. “I want to introduce you to 58,317 American heroes,” said Dennis Howland, President, Utah Vietnam Veterans of America. “By remembering here you brought them back for just a few minutes. We’re celebrating the conclusion of a magnificent journey. Every veteran or those serving now – this is yours.” Howland has spearheaded the project to bring a replica to Utah for almost four years. Layton City donated the land where the wall stands. It is approximately 370 feet long, making it 80 percent of the size of the original in Washington, D.C. Eight benches surround it to represent the women killed in Vietnam. Tucked into the wall is a sealed box with Purple Hearts. “They earned them but didn’t get to wear them,” said Howland. “They’re buried in the wall for our 58,000 kids.” “For all his passion, toil and sweat they did it,” said Gary Harter, Executive Director, Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs. “Some people don’t have the opportunity to go see it in D.C., now we have one in our own state. Nobody could really visualize what this was going to be like, but oh my gosh this is amazing.” Harter read a letter from Gov. Gary Herbert praising the efforts to bring the replica to Utah. “This wall, while simple in design, recognizes those who gave their lives and represents loss, healing, grief and triumph,” it read. Layton Mayor Bob Stevenson said it was a battle to find a place for the monument to go. “We didn’t want the pavilion to block it,” he said. “But then 58,000 spirits started pushing the walls down and it’s been condemned so it (pavilion) will come down after all.” Stevenson named those soldiers from Layton who were killed in the conflict. “America pretty well turned its back on Vietnam vets,” he said. “It was sad, very sad. It left a very big black mark on this country. You veterans taught as the importance of military in this country. We never want to have another wall with names from a war. I hope this wall can bring change from just a memorial to become a symbol of everything you’ve done for this country.” Keynote speaker Chaplain Ray “Padre” Johnson, USN (Ret.) shared his harrowing experiences as a medic in Vietnam. “I’m thankful I got an extension to breathe this fresh air,” he said. “I realize my name could have been etched on that wall.” Johnson told of one of the most casualty-riddled battles in Vietnam. “I watched in surreal disbelief as my friends were being cut down in a matter of minutes,” he said. “I made an attempt to reach a radio man who was struggling to reach the medical unit. He had a look of ‘help me’ in his eyes and on his face as he looked at me with my position on the ramp. I had no other response but to remove his equipment and carry him on my back to safety.” While he was working on two wounded men they were hit again and Johnson was also severely injured. “Miraculously I was able to control my bleeding and stay connected as a medical leader,” he said. “I’m thankful I could be there at the right time and place that I could help. Some I was unsuccessful with and they slipped away. I watched them take their last breath. They would say, ‘Doc, don’t worry I’m alright,’ then they’d leave.” Howland reminded the crowd that while honoring their sacrifice, remember their lives. “They lived, laughed and cried,” he said. “They broke hearts and had their hearts broken. They hoped, dreamed and planned for the future. We all left as 18-year-old children and came home as instant 30-year-old men and women. We got cheated out of their greatness. Keep them in your hearts and memories as you go forward.”


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