WELLSBURG — Area residents have an opportunity to remember the sacrifices of the many Vietnam War veterans who hailed from the Mountain State with the arrival at Wellsburg’s Central Park of the West Virginia Council of Vietnam Veterans of America’s Mobile Wall.
Bearing the names of 768 West Virginians who were killed, declared missing in action or captured during the conflict, the wall was inspired by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which pays tribute to all Americans who held such distinction.
It will be on display at the park near 17th and Charles streets through today, when a service will be held at 6 p.m. and until Thursday morning, when it will be disassembled and transported to its next appearance.
Wellsburg resident Greg Cheeks said when he learned of plans to retire the wall after this year, he set out to bring it back to the park one more time by soliciting donations to cover expenses involved in maintaining and transporting it.
Dave Simmons, West Virginia Council president and driver for the trailer carrying the wall, said lack of manpower is the main reason it won’t be going on the road in the future.
But he said the group hopes to sell it with the stipulation that its new owner makes it available for viewing at least 20 hours per day.
Simmons said proceeds from the sale will go to projects aiding Vietnam veterans, such as handicap accommodations and financial aid with related medical bills, for which the group has directed a portion of its proceeds.
He said the wall’s next and last two stops will be in Burnsville in Braxton County and Camp Dawson in Preston County, where it will be part of a Gold Star Mothers retreat.
Simmons said members of the Gold Star Mothers, whose adult children were killed while serving in the military, suggested a separate monument found near the wall.
It pays tribute to West Virginians who were killed while serving on foreign soil since the Vietnam War, including Operation Desert Shield, Operation Iraqi Freedom and missions in Beirut, Panama and Afghanistan.
Unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on which the names are listed in order of their deaths, the names on the Mobile Wall are alphabetical.
The West Virginia Council of VVA has a record of the hometown, unit and date of death for each.
Cheeks, who served in the Army in Thailand during the Vietnam War, noted 19 were Brooke County residents.
“I went to school with nine of them. That’s why I want them to be remembered,” he said.
Cheeks had raised funds for the wall’s earlier visits to Wellsburg in 2014 and 2018.
He said thanks to the generosity of many businesses, organizations and groups, he’s nearly collected about $1,700 needed for this year’s appearance.
Assisting Simmons in unloading and assembling about a dozen sturdy plastic panels into a V-shaped configuration resembling the Washington monument were many volunteers.
Among them were members of the Upper Ohio Valley American Legion Riders motorcycle group who escorted the wall into town.
Mike Stillwell, a road captain with the group, said while not all Vietnam veterans were killed, many returned with Purple Hearts denoting the wounds they sustained while serving and many are dying today from the effects of Agent Orange and other conditions related to their service.
“I think anybody older than 60 has someone in their life who has been touched by the Vietnam War,” he said.
Cheeks said it had hurt to hear of childhood friends who didn’t return.
“I’d just like to keep everybody’s memory alive the best I can. That’s why I keep bringing it (the Mobile Wall) back,” he said.
The wall’s appearance was set to coincide with the city’s weeklong celebration of Independence Day, which continues with a free concert featuring the Sarah Hays Band from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at Central Park.