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‘Together in history’: Vietnam memorial wall connects veterans in York County

Mike Ridge wore a Coast Guard veteran hat and knelt Thursday in front of The Wall That Heals in Rock Hill. He ran his fingers over a few of the engraved names of Americans who lost their lives serving in the Vietnam War. Tears filled his eyes.

Ridge, of Rock Hill, who served in the Coast Guard during the war, lost two high school friends in the Vietnam War.

“When I go back to my yearbook and I look at the pictures, there’s Ronnie running down the track with me in cross country,” Ridge said. “And then the next year, he was gone. That’s tough. But then to see his name on here, that’s special.”

The Wall That Heals, a traveling wall that memorializes more than 3 million Americans who served during the Vietnam War will be on display at the Rock Hill BMX park through Sunday.

The wall, a three-quarter size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., lists the names of more than 58,000 men and women who lost their lives in the war, including 36 from York County.

The wall went on display Thursday and will be open to the public 24 hours a day until it closes at 2 p.m. Sunday. At 10 a.m. Saturday, there will be an Honors Ceremony at the wall to commemorate those who served in the war.

The wall, which is 375 feet long, has been in York County twice before. It was on display in Rock Hill in 2003 and in Fort Mill in 2014.

About 50 people visited the wall Thursday afternoon. Charlton Blanks, of Chester, who served three tours in Vietnam in the Marine Corps, said he visited the wall to see the name of a close friend who died when they served together.

“It does bring you back to the days that you were there,” Blanks, 81, said. “And also you remember those that were closest to you or close to you that passed away.”

Blanks found the name of his friend and traced it onto a piece of paper.

“It’s emotional to see his name, but we’re very fortunate that we have a wall like this,” Blanks said.

Blanks visited the wall with John Killian, 77, who also served as a Marine in the Vietnam War. Killian, from Chester, said he got the nickname “Cackalack” in Vietnam.

“They called me that because I talk funny,” he said.

Killian said it brought him peace to see the names of friends who died while serving.

“It’s important to remember the sacrifice that these guys made for us, for our country,” he said. “At that time, the country didn’t really observe that. They thought the war shouldn’t have been fought. When we came home, we weren’t greeted like the second World War or Korean War. We weren’t greeted at all and that was tough to take.”

Ridge said the wall allows Vietnam veterans and those who lost loved ones in the war to feel connected.

“I may not know these guys that are wearing the hats and wearing the vest and things like that,” Ridge said. “But there’s a sense of place because we were together in history, and we were linked because we were serving our country in the same period.”

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Cailyn Derickson is a city government and politics reporter for The Herald, covering York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Cailyn graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has previously worked at The Pilot and The News and Observer.
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