JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Community members gathered Thursday at Metropolitan Park for the opening ceremony of The Wall That Heals, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that stands in Washington D.C.
The wall and mobile education center travel the country giving families and veterans a chance to honor those who lost their lives in one of the country's most controversial wars.
Vietnam veteran Anthony D'Aleo said the wall bears the names of many of his friends who fought alongside him during the Vietnam War. It was difficult time that he remembers all too well.
"I was in hell in Vietnam. I was in Hue City in an assault platoon. We fought for 87 straight days," D'Alea said "We lost almost a half of the battalion. Several Air Force planes were shot down. Choppers were taking our wounded out."
Even more than 40 years after the war, veterans like D'Aleo are still trying to heal. They said this half-size replica of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial helps.
A ceremony was held to present the opening of The Wall That Heals. More than 58,000 names are engraved on the 250-foot wall.
The names of the hundreds of local men and women on that wall who never made it back home to Jacksonville were read aloud at the ceremony.
"I'm 71 today. They didn't make 71. They were 20, 19, 17 years old," said D'Aleo. "If they got past 21 they were lucky, but they were all young."
Many veterans can't make it to Washington, D.C., to see the wall, so bringing a replica of the memorial to them gives them a chance to honor their own. There are also photos of the soldiers, letters and other memorabilia that travel with the wall.
Members of the Vietnamese Association of Jacksonville attended the ceremony to honor the sacrifices of their American allies.
The Wall That Heals will be at Metropolitan Park through Sunday. There will be volunteers on hand at the memorial 24 hours a day.