Memorial comes to town

The opening ceremony for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall in Tallahassee, took place at Lake Ella on Friday at 7 p.m.

Although three-fifths the size of the actual Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., people still showed their support for the exhibit.

The opening ceremony included veteran recognition, presentation of colors by the Knights of Columbus, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a brief address of Vietnam casualties.

Ralph Russo, owner of Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, started the Vietnam Memorial at Lake Ella two years ago and has celebrated every year since then. Russo also raised money to help sponsor other veteran reunions with the Big Bend Chapter 96 of Vietnam Veterans of America.

Many people attended the ceremony to remember those who gave their lives in what some call the worst war in American history.

Some passerby, unaware of what was going on, stopped what they were doing, whether a nightly jog or walking the dog, to come across the wall and reminisce about the war that cost thousands of Americans their lives.

Rick Clevenger, 61, from Liberty, Ind., was one of many veterans at the memorial site, remembering their time in the war and the many friends lost. At the age of 19, Clevenger said he was drafted into a two-year service in the Vietnam War.

“I never gave a thought of not going, my father as well as some of my uncles served, and even though I was scared I knew that I had to serve my country,” Clevenger said.

Clevenger explained his arrival at basic training camp; as he saw men leaving, they had “the thousand yard stare,” a worn down look of war, pain and fatigue.

“When I came back, it was around the time that people were protesting the war and spitting on soldiers. I was so worried about that happening to me that I changed into my civilian clothes and tossed my army clothes out the window,” Clevenger said.

After some readjustments and a move to Tallahassee, Clevenger was welcomed with open arms to the Big Bend Chapter 96 of Vietnam Veterans of America.

“I’m just glad to see people here to honor the thousands of individuals who sacrificed their lives,” said Clevenger.

Shaunte Crawford, 20, staff sergeant on Florida A&M University’s ROTC, said it’s important for people in and out of the military to visit the wall.

“It’s important but I think everybody should pay their respects,” said Crawford, a criminal justice, junior from Atlanta.

Nishea Harris, 19, a criminal justice student from Jacksonville, said she sees the importance of attending the memorial, since her father is a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy.

“What my father does for his country is great and I can kind of imagine what they might go through in time of war,” Harris said. “Sometimes you just have to take time out to appreciate what they give for us to continue our lifestyle.”

On Tuesday morning, there will be a breakfast held at Lake Ella for the Vietnam Veterans.