A large crowd of veterans and civilians filled East Peoria’s Levee Park on Thursday as the city held an opening ceremony for the Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Harold “Hal” Fritz, a Peoria resident who received a Medal of Honor and several other decorations for his duty in Vietnam, said the turnout to honor and remember people who served their country was inspiring.
“It’s fantastic to see the support of the community, the support for the veterans ... and to see the names on the wall reminds us freedom is not free; it costs blood, sacrifice, dedication,” said Fritz, who is one of 69 living Medal of Honor recipients--including 48 who fought in Vietnam.
“We wear our blue ribbons not to honor ourselves, but as messengers to carry the message of sacrifice, the message of dedication, the message of commitment of the men and women that have served and are serving in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”
The traveling wall is a 3/5 replica of the national memorial in Washington, D.C. It bears the names of more than 58,000 service members who died during the Vietnam War. Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Clayton Moushon said each name deserves honor and remembrance.
“As I look upon this wall, I see 58,304 Americans--average age 23--who, regardless of their ideology, they came together, they fought together, and they gave their full measure of devotion and sacrifice in defense of this great nation,” said Moushon.
East Peoria Mayor John Kahl said it’s a privilege for the city to host the wall over the next four days “for reflection, remembrance and honor” in recognition of those whose names are engraved on the memorial.
“It should serve as a testament to the sacrifice to their lives, and as a reminder freedom never has been nor will it ever be free,” said Kahl.
Fritz made a point of acknowledging several Vietnam veterans in the crowd, as well as Gold Star family members.
“Those are the families that have suffered a terrible loss, losing a loved one, as a result of valorous action and service to our nation,” said Fritz. “The other faction that often is overlooked, but is so important, are the wives, significant others, and family members of veterans. Those I call the silent partners whose very valued support is the lifeblood of the veteran.”
The ceremony included the presentation of a wreath by Purple Heart recipients Richard Burns and Steve Brereton, and a performance of the Missing Man Table ceremony conducted by the Pekin Junior ROTC in honor of prisoners of war and those still listed as missing in action.
“It’s nice to see young people already dedicated to the service of our nation,” said Commissioner Dan Decker, who served as event co-chairman with Justin Hale.
The display, which features 142 two-panel sections, will be open 24 hours each day and admission is free. Volunteers will have a book showing the location of each name on the wall.
At noon Sunday, the Illinois National Guard’s Funeral Honors Team will conduct a brief closing ceremony featuring a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”
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