Terry Long Purcell waited, patient and quiet, until she saw the truck carrying the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund wall drop down the little hill and pull in to Fort Mill’s Veterans Park. The truck was escorted by dozens of veterans, many of them Vietnam War veterans, on motorcycles. The truck had barely stopped when Purcell, pushed by tears and family, and by death, started hugging the escort riders.
“Thank you,” she kept telling strangers as she hugged them all. “My brother is on that wall. Thank you, so much. For caring.”
Purcell’s brother, Lance Cpl. Raymond Ervin Long, who grew up in Fort Mill, died in Vietnam in 1967.
Purcell kept hugging the veterans and others from the American Legion Riders, Veterans of Foreign Wars Riders, Patriot Guard, and others who rode as escorts. She hugged everybody in sight for her brother, whose name is on that wall in his hometown.
Families just like the Longs are one of so many reasons why the Fort Mill History Museum decided to bring the half-size replica traveling wall for a stay. The wall, and its names, honors those who died.
“Every name on that wall, every person on that wall, they need to be remembered,” said Al Guest of Rolling Thunder, a veterans advocacy group that organized several groups of motorcycle riders to escort the wall from North Carolina to Fort Mill.
Guest, a 66-year-old Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, said he came home after combat.
“The people on the wall did not come home; they died doing their duty, and we owe them,” Guest said.
The traveling wall, called “The Wall That Heals,” is driven around the United States. It has been to more than 350 towns and cities in 18 years, including a stop in Rock Hill in 2003. The wall will be on display in Fort Mill from opening ceremonies Thursday at 6 p.m. through Sunday night, 24 hours a day. Veterans groups will provide around-the-clock security.
The traveling wall has no politics or political agenda. It is open to people who supported the war and those who protested. It exists solely to honor those 58,300 who died. And the families who lost them. And the communities that lost them. It is meant to be a quiet place, with quiet reflection.
And the hundreds of thousands of others who either volunteered or were drafted and served in Vietnam are honored by the wall and its exhibits, too. The wall and a museum/information center that is part of the truck and trailer is free and open to anyone who wants to see it. Bob Dobek of Iowa and his wife, Brenda, drive the rig that hauls the wall from town to town.
“This wall gives the people of America a chance to see what they might not be able to see if they can’t get to Washington and see it in D.C.,” Dobek said “I am honored to bring the wall to York County so the people here can honor the men and women who died.”
Among those waiting for the wall to come in Tuesday was a lady from Fort Mill who did not hug strangers. She stayed back, and watched, and was very quiet. Her name is Sue Durr Kelly. She grew up in upstate New York and is part of the influx of new residents into Fort Mill over the past two decades that has changed Fort Mill from sleepy mill town to bursting Rock Hill/Charlotte suburb.
On that wall is her brother’s name.
“His name was Brian Durr,” she said.
Army Spec. Brian Durr, from Whitesboro, N.Y., died in Vietnam in 1968. He was 21 years old.
Kelly quietly met people and thanked them for bringing the wall that has her brother’s name on it. Her silent love for her brother was its own thunderclap.
There are 58,300 names on the wall. Of the 36 men from York County who died in Vietnam, 11 were from little Fort Mill.
“And Fort Mill was even smaller back then,” said Terry Long Purcell, that hugging lady whose brother died in Vietnam. “This small community gave so much. We lost 11 men in that war. Fort Mill paid a huge price for Vietnam. Fort Mill, all of York County, has a chance to see the wall, and honor the people like my brother who died over there.”
And now, standing in the same little park where Ray Long played as a kid, is the wall with his name on it that honors him and all the others from Fort Mill and every town and city, hamlet and village, who did not come back alive.
Raymond Long had been in Vietnam exactly 13 days when he died on Oct. 19, 1967.
He was 19 years old.