WJCT and the city of Jacksonville are hosting a traveling wall, commemorating American soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam.
The Wall that Heals is a half-scale replica of the memorial wall in Washington D.C. The wall is open 24 hours a day until 3 p.m. on Easter Sunday.
During the opening ceremony Thursday morning, Vietnam Veteran Anthony D’Aleo was one of several reading the names out loud of Northeast Florida soldiers who died in the war.
Nearby, 250 American flags, one for each person, were speared into the ground next to the wall.
D’Aleo choked up as he announced one final name — his best friend. He said he lost 15 friends he grew up with in Brooklyn on the wall.
“Their blood was spilt for this country,” he said. “I’m alive because of them. They gave the ultimate.”
D’Aleo and several other veterans helped build the 250-foot traveling wall stretching across Memorial Park Wednesday. The names of more than 58,000 lost in Vietnam on are it.
All weekend, volunteers will help visitors find the names of loved ones, like Otis Bess, who was wearing a Vietnam veteran cap, looking for the name of one of his best friends he grew up with in Jacksonville.
Volunteers gave him a square of paper, with the wall panel number and the direction, his was 45 West.
“There it is, Randolph Sampson,” said Bess when his finger landed on the name. “Him and I played together from fourth grade through 12th grade.”
He said Sampson was killed after two months in Vietnam when he was 18. Shortly after, Bess joined the military himself.
“There’s just so much about him that just brings back memories,” Bess said. “It just makes me wonder ‘what would Randolph be doing now?’ “
Of those who died in Vietnam, five were 16 years old, the oldest was in his 60s.
But many alive today also sacrificed, said keynote speaker Admiral Mark Fitzgerald.
“We also had 125,000 wounded, we still have 1,420 who have not come home. There were 684 POWs,” he said.
The ceremony ended with veterans being asked to sit down for a standing ovation.L
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