“Some high school classmates of mine are on the wall, and I’m not. So I kind of feel like I owe it to them,” was the response given by Barney Smith, a volunteer at the Traveling Wall Vietnam Memorial in Faribault during the Labor Day Weekend.
The Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial visit to Faribault was a project whose inception began 16 months ago, after a Medal of Valor Ceremony in the honor of Lance Corporal (LCpl) Caleb Erickson. LCpl Erickson was a 20-year-old Marine who was killed while serving in Afghanistan in February 2014. Event organizers Virginia Vansluis and Kirk Mansfield, along with Faribault Elks Lodge #1166, American Legion Post #43 and four other Faribault area organizations, successfully brought the wall to the city.
Upon arrival to the Faribault Fairgrounds where the traveling memorial was held, guests were given a Vietnam Veteran casualty name from volunteers at the check-in tent. I was given Specialist (SPC) Gerald Aadland and, with the help of Larry Thomas, Vietnam Veteran and event volunteer, we searched for his name on the wall.
While walking to the wall, Thomas described how he was drafted in October 1965, along with two brothers and two brother in-laws. He was activated for approximately two years and returned home safely, along with his brothers and brother in-laws.
SPC Aadland’s name can be found on wall Panel 63W, line 014. The Wall is divided into sections, East Wall and West Wall. As Thomas and I kneeled to the ground to stencil SPC Aadland’s name on the Fallen Hero memorabilia sheet we received, Thomas recounted how he was drafted with a fellow Minnesotan from the Sleepy Eye area.
They trained together out of Oakland California and were assigned duty stations based on where they stood in the ranks of their formation.
“Years later, I went to Sleepy Eye to look Ron up. I never could find any information; it was kind of tough. Well, the other day, we found him. His name’s on the wall. We were drafted in October 6, 1965. And on December 10, 1967, he perished. He ended up in Vietnam and he perished. But, I know where he’s at. He’s in peace, he served his country,” said Thomas.
The deceased Vietnam Veterans are inscribed on the wall, chronologically by casualty date. In the shape of an inverse parabola, and “Like the war itself, The Wall begins small, rises to a peak, and then tapers off small again,” read the event program guide.
After Thomas and I stenciled SPC Aadland’s name from the resting prone position, we both felt the need to rise. He requested my help in aiding him to his feet. But I felt like he could have easily risen and, with his own strength, carried me to my feet.
The Traveling Wall carries 58,308 names and is 80 percent of the original wall in Washington D.C. Through the Wall’s database, we learned that SPC Aadland voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 23. He was a ground casualty of hostile small arms fire and served as an 11B20, Infantryman, Senior Radio Telephone Operator.
“If you want to sleep beside the wall, if your father, if your brother is on that wall, if you served in combat with somebody or a name that you are close to in any connection whatsoever, if you feel so inclined to go up to that wall, you can bring a bottle of Jack Daniels here and do a toast with your brother or sister. And I would have no problem with that whatsoever,” said Kirk Mansfield one of the event organizers. Mansfield served in the US Navy and is now acting Chaplain for the Faribault American Legion Post #43.
Mansfield expressed that the Traveling Wall is manned 24 hours a day. The Marine Corp League provided security overnight so that the Wall had someone present at all times. “A lot of folks, they have trouble with the crowds. They’re going to want to come during the overnight,” said Mansfield.
The memorial included two fields which displayed crosses, acknowledging veterans who died from Minnesota. One field occupied 38 crosses, which represented 38 Vietnam Veterans from the five county area. The second field arranged 138 crosses, which personified veterans who perished from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Each cross had an attached photo and name of the fallen hero.
“There is nothing that I can tell you, that you cannot do because the sacrifices that have been made by these names,” I interrupted Kirk before he could finish his previous sentence. I had to remove my sunglasses, to rid of the tears that were disrupting my vision. Upon seeing this, Kirk also began tearing up. Offered me an embrace, which I accepted, and returned in kind.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the community support,” said Douglas Truman, a retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (Gy Sgt.) and Vietnam Veteran.
“Since 1 p.m. Thursday (soft opening) we’ve had a steady stream of people coming in, which is unbelievable,” said Gy Sgt. Truman.
Gy Sgt. Truman served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, and was five miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ separated North and South Vietnam. Truman was attached to an Amtrac Battalion, which protected the river mouth from communists and insurgents.
His unit received sporadic fire, “Enough to interrupt your days and your sleep. As time went on, you got to hear that sound, when you knew the mortars were leaving. And you could hear the little pop and you’d start heading to your bunker to get under cover,” said the seasoned Gy Sgt.
“Then you’d come home with not the best of welcome, but after 55 years it’s come around.”
“I’ve certainly dedicated the rest of my life to making sure that these young kids that are keeping our freedoms that we have today, and we’ve always had, that they get the respect and admiration of the job that they’re doing. So that we can continue to do what we do in the United States, live this freedom of life that we’ve had,” said Truman.
Overall, “Public reception has been overwhelming,” said a joyful Truman.
“There are lots of ways to serve this country. I had my way, they, by far, had the toughest way. I’m just trying to show a little appreciation,” commented Barney Smith, the volunteer who was guarding the POW/MIA Memorial Tent.
When asked if he had anything else to share; “Appreciate why we have this life that we do. Find out a little bit about why,” said Smith.