Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall Comes To Tampa
In the middle of the 300-foot black stone wall, Linda Bessie used a pen to etch the name her late sister's fiancé, John D. Andrade, onto paper.
He died in the Vietnam War when he was 20.
Bessie was one of a couple hundred people who attended Thursday’s opening ceremony for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall at the Hillsborough County’s Veterans Memorial Park.
"We loved him,” Bessie said. “It was a shame. He was very young. He's been in our hearts ever since. And to all of the men on the wall, and the women, it's very sad."
The 3/5 scale replica of Washington D.C.'s Vietnam Memorial is in Tampa through the end of the weekend. It has more than 58,000 names inscribed on the stone.
One of those names was Army veteran Gary Meredith’s cousin.
“It hurts,” Meredith said, patting his heart. “It’s hard.”
Absent was his brother, who was shot twice, but lived to come home.
Bertha Sims came out to honor her roommate, a veteran, and two young men she went to church with in North Carolina.
“I remember when my peers went off right after high school to fight in this war. Two of whom were very special to me did not come back,” Sims said.
“I wanted to see their names. To think of their faces, not growing up and growing old, or having children… I still see them as the boys they were, wonderful and alive. Who didn’t come back.”
The opening ceremony featured keynote speaker U.S. Air Force (Ret.) Capt. Michael T. Burns, a former prisoner of war. (Hear a portion of his speech in the video above.)
Lindsey Norberg, an Army veteran, spent the day with a bottle of spray cleaner in one hand and rag in the other, cleaning the wall in between visitors.
“It’s a nice way as I’m cleaning and polishing to say, ‘Hi, guys. How are you doing?’ These are someone’s loved ones.”
The exhibit will be at 3602 U.S. Highway 301 N. in Tampa through Oct. 29. The park will offer special hours for the event: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Admission is free.
Visitors to the traveling memorial can also stroll through the 21-acre park to view the permanent monuments and memorials.