On the front page of the November 1, 2007 edition of The Cheshire Heralda photo spanning three columns and taking up the entire top right of the newspaper showed the powerful scene.
A tractor-trailer is shown turning into the entrance to Bartlem Park, with hundreds of spectators lining the street around it, some waving American flags. Behind the truck, we see bikers following in procession, preparing to make the same turn as the trailer.
The headline reads: ‘The Memorial Wall is coming to Cheshire’.
About 15 years ago, “The Healing Wall,” a smaller traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, came to town. The moment had been expected for months, as Ralph Zingarella, then a history teacher at Cheshire High School, organized a grassroots effort, made up of local veterans and students, to help bring the moving monument to the community. . And the first sign of this trailer truck, escorted by motorcyclists, as well as firefighters and police, did not disappoint.
Bartlem Park once again hosts such a wall.
From now until Monday, the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall will be at attention for visitors. A 3/5th scale version of the DC original, it stands 6 feet tall in the center and covers almost 300 feet from end to end. More than 58,000 names are listed there.
Bringing the wall back to Cheshire was the brainchild of teenager Hayley Falk, a high school student from Cheshire who comes from a family of veterans. Her father, Jeff Falk, a sergeant with the Cheshire Police Department, is a Navy veteran who served on submarines. Her grandfather, Don Falk, served in Vietnam and was an inspiration to Hayley, who founded the group, Because of the Brave, specifically to honor veterans from all branches of the armed forces.
For five days, members of the community will be able to visit a version of the memorial that has become one of the most visited sites in Washington, D.C. Each year, millions of people make the journey to the long black marble wall engraved with names and dates of those who went to Vietnam never to return.
The stories of the men and women who died in this country continue to be told, as do the stories of those who were lucky enough to make it home alive – the heroes who carry the scars of this conflict with them to this day. , some of which are visible, many of which are not. It will be a week of honor, memory and learning, especially for a younger generation for whom the Vietnam War is now a distant conflict to be discovered in the history books.
In 2007, the sentiment was much the same. Zingarella and those who volunteered their time to help, all had one goal in mind: to pay tribute to those who never returned from a contentious war, and finally to give back to those who paid the tribute they deserved.
“The healing wall is now here,” read a statement printed on the front page of the November 1 Around Town section. “It has been a long journey since the project began in June 2006, but it has been rewarding.”
The article goes on to quote Zingarella, who thanked everyone who made his idea a reality, and he encouraged community members to attend the opening ceremonies as well as tour the wall while it remained on display.
“Vietnam War veterans have been the focus of our city, and rightly so,” Zingarella said. “They have done their part in the history of our country and it is high time they were given the same place in history as all of our veterans. They were just doing their job.
In next week’s edition, the herald recounted what the opening ceremonies were like. In an 8 November 2007 edition of the newspaper, the lead article proclaimed that ‘the memorial wall leaves its mark on Cheshire’. Once more, Zingarella offered his thoughts, this time looking at the wall he had helped lure to finally be erected.
“Next to the birth of my children and the day I got married, that was the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Zingarella said. the herald at the time.
The event attracted many dignitaries, including then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal before his election to the United States Senate. Another participant was Cheshire resident, former sailor and Vietnam veteran Dennis Mannion, who was recently featured in the herald. Mannion provided this the herald described at the time as “one of the most poignant speeches” to be delivered throughout the ceremony, where he recounted how, on a flight home from Vietnam, he was seated next to a a man who, upon learning of Mannion’s status as a fighter, asked to change seats once the flight was underway.
But Mannion, predictably, spent much of his time honoring his fallen comrades.
“(The Wall) brought these men to life, even if only for a brief moment,” he said in his speech. “The classic beauty of the structure behind me exists in its simplicity of use. It mirrors the battlefield. It’s still a last world of simplicity.
Another speaker was then Navy Under Secretary Harvey “Barney” Barnum, a Cheshire native, Medal of Honor recipient and a man known for holding nothing back. Barnum gave what was described as a “fiery” speech that offered a reaction against how the Vietnam War and the men who fought in it have been portrayed over the years.
“I see little of what I experienced (in Vietnam) in any Oliver Stone movie,” Barnum said. “It took a lot of us a long time to talk about the war, but we have to talk. We must dispel the myths that have grown up around this war.
“The names of those who gave their lives are listed in the order in which they were taken from us,” he said. “In its mirror image it reflects all who come to see it, and we are reunited with the names…I hope this wall serves to appease those of us who have served, and perhaps those who feel guilty for not having served.”
The speeches may have been memorable, but what probably left the biggest impression on those who attended the opening ceremony happened right after the speakers concluded. A group of students lined up near the podium, each holding flowers. Zingarella then invited those present who had a family member or friend listed on the wall to come up, receive a flower and place it where that name was located on the wall.
The image evoked the tears of those gathered, as music played lightly in the background.
Although the event was specifically designed to honor those who served in Vietnam, many attendees couldn’t help but think of another conflict. Six years have passed since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which sparked conflicts in Afghanistan and ultimately Iraq.
For Sarah Barzec, a Middletown resident, attending the “Healing Wall” ceremony felt like a necessity, not only to show respect to those who died in Vietnam, but also to honor her brother’s service. He was to “ship” to Iraq a few weeks later.
“With my brother going to Iraq, it was really overwhelming to be here,” she said. “I just felt like it was the right thing to do, to come out and show my support.”
How will the wall be received this time around? Will it provoke, 15 years later, the same emotions?
The answer to this question is most likely yes.