It came from simple beginnings, a desire to honor those who served in Vietnam. But there was so much more to be said, more public servants to recognize. Highlighted by a scale model of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the “Cost of Freedom Tribute” will span five days and recognize everyone from the forgotten heroes of Vietnam to women in the military to firefighters and law enforcement.
“We honor people who deserve recognition, we respect the past and we remember those who have fallen,” said Dan Parker, commander of Sonoma’s Veterans of Foreign War Post #1943, which is organizing the event in celebration of Veterans Day on Sunday, Nov. 11.
But it will all begin on Wednesday, Nov. 7, with the arrival of an 80 percent scale model of the famed Vietnam Memorial Wall, designed in 1982 by Maya Lin in Washington, D.C. Listing all of the 58,272 Americans who were declared killed or missing in action in Vietnam, the wall was replicated by the nonprofit American Veterans Traveling Tribute so families who could not make it to the nation’s capitol could still see their loved one’s names memorialized.
On Wednesday, the replica wall will make its way from Sears Point surrounded by a motorcade of more than 200 police cars, fire trucks and motorcycles. A Huey military helicopter carrying two Purple Heart veterans who served in Vietnam will hover overhead. The wall will come to rest outside the Star of Honor in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where it will be available to the public 24 hours a day during its stay in Sonoma.
“All of the outdoor exhibits will be open 24 hours a day,” Parker said. “We’re providing security around the clock. We’re also going to provide professional counselors around the clock, in case any visitors need to talk with someone.”
In addition to the Vietnam wall, the tribute will include the “Gold Tag Wall,” which bears the gold-dipped dog-tags of all service men and women killed during the war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001. A portion of the Twin Towers, on loan from Suisun City, will also be displayed; as will a memorial for those missing in action and prisoners of war. “We still have POWs in Afghanistan, people may or may not realize that,” Parker said. “People need to be educated on that, this needs to be on the forefront.”
A variety of public events will take place throughout the long weekend, beginning on Thursday, Nov. 8, with the opening ceremony at 1 p.m. Following a military flyover, the posting of the colors, pledge of allegiance and the National Anthem performed by the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, wreaths will be placed in the cemetery to honor all branches of military service. Military vehicles including a Huey helicopter and Mare Island PBR (Patrol Boat, River) will be on display; along with a replica “Hooch” tent showcasing how combat veterans lived in Vietnam, complete with a variety of historic military uniforms.
“It’s basically like a traveling museum,” Parker said.
Veterans groups across the Bay Area were invited to come to Sonoma for the tribute, as were schools and youth groups to teach students about military history. Parker said they expect as many as 20,000 visitors over the five days, and dozens of VFW volunteers are coordinating all of the week’s programs.
Friday’s ceremony is dedicated to the heroes on the home front – law enforcement and firefighters. There will be speeches from Gordon Perlow, a special agent with the Department of Justice and FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force; and Sheldon Gilbert, retired chief of the Alameda County Fire Department.
Also on Friday, the state’s Employment Development Department will host a job fair for veterans from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Vintage House senior center, 264 First St. E. It will include a chance to meet local employers, brush up resumes, hear about training and career programs for vets and learn how to replace lost military records. For more on the job fair, call Claudio Calvo at 565-5564.
Saturday launches the Veterans Day ceremonies with a focus on Vietnam veterans. The ceremony begins at noon and includes a speech from Bob Whitworth, author of the memorial, “Through My Eyes: A Story of Hope.”In the evening, beginning at 6 p.m., there will be a candlelight ceremony and vigil.
“That’s going to be special, a time for reflection,” Parker said.
The event wraps up Sunday with a spotlight on women in the military beginning at 11 a.m. Speakers include Holly Watts, one of the volunteer “Donut Dollies” sent to Vietnam by the American Red Cross; as well as Kate O’Hare-Palmer, a nurse who served in Vietnam.
“I’ve been wanting to do something for our women in the military for a long time. They were soldiers trained and true,” Parker said of female veterans. “But a lot of the time they don’t get the same recognition.”
The VFW worked for more than a year to raise enough funds for the Cost of Freedom Tribute. Valley residents Frank and Arlene Keesling donated $20,000 to the effort, with additional support from the VFW’s Ladies Auxiliary and dozens of other businesses, veterans groups and individuals.
While the outdoor exhibits will be accessible around the clock, the indoor exhibits can be seen from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For a complete schedule of events, details on the Cost of Freedom Tribute or more information on the VFW, visit vfwpost1943.org.