The traveling wall that memorializes those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War is opening in Fort Mill on Thursday.
Dubbed The Wall That Heals, it is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and includes the names of more than 58,000 war dead, including 11 men from Fort Mill and 36 from York County. The wall will be set up in Veteran’s Park on Main Street until Sunday.
“This is a very big deal for Fort Mill – exciting and patriotic,” said Ann Evans, the consulting executive director of the Fort Mill History Museum, the group hosting the wall.
It has been 11 years since the traveling wall came to York County. It was set up in Rock Hill in 2003, and thousands came to pay their respects to those who had fallen during the controversial conflict that began in late 1955 and ended in 1975.
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Officials with the Fort Mill History Museum decided to bring the experience to the old mill town and have received a lot of support to cover the $10,000 price tag.
“Everybody still has a lot of emotion about the Vietnam War,” said Evans. “I think there’s a consciousness as an American people that we didn’t support our troops as we should have. There seems to be a national regret. We want to show them that we appreciate and acknowledge their sacrifices. It’s a wall that heals because it shows that we respect what you have done.”
Though Evans didn’t suffer any personal losses to Vietnam, she was a child at the time and still remembers the war as a time of great tension. It bothers her that the soldiers didn’t receive the honor they deserved.
“The political air was so opposite of what you grew up watching in World War II movies,” she said.
The wall itself will be guarded around the clock and a chaplain will be available for those who need assistance. Thousands are expected to visit the wall, from school-aged children learning about the Vietnam War to those who survived combat in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
“It’s open to the public as far and wide as we can cast our nets,” Evans said.
Minnie Stegall, mother of Pfc. Lindell “Butch” Ray Stegall, a fallen U.S. Marine, is planning to attend Thursday’s opening ceremony. She is believed to be the only living Vietnam Gold Star Mother left in Fort Mill. She has been to other traveling walls.
“I just feel like I should go. I want to,” said Stegall, 88, who signed the papers for her son to volunteer for service after graduating from high school. “It’s a sad feeling, but that was his desire to go.”