Traveling Vietnam wall goes up in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
With tears in her eyes, Rhonda M. Goc of Browning, Mont., etches the name of her uncle, Andrew J. Rogus Jr., at the American Veterans Traveling Tribute in Rio Grande Park Thursday. "I remember my Uncle Butchie ... he was killed when I was 6," said Goc. The replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial will be on display in Aspen through the weekend. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

If you build it, they will come – even before you’re finished. They will also etch the names of loved ones onto pieces of paper even as the stark, black panels are still being placed side by side by young, muscled men working side by side with tattooed guys who have tears in their eyes.By the time the model monolith made its 90-degree turn across the green, clipped expanse of an Aspen park on Thursday, The Wall was drawing a steady stream of people, from the merely curious to veterans struggling to keep their composure.Even for generations far too young to remember body counts on the nightly news, the staggering number of names on The Wall is unsettling – an all-too-powerful reminder of the cost of war. Especially these days.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a 4/5-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., will remain on display in Aspen until Monday at 9 a.m. Then, it will be dismantled and depart for its next stop in California.But for the weekend, Rio Grande Park will be a site of music and mourning, prayers and healing, and most of all, remembrance.Yesterday, Howie Berg of Basalt ran his fingers across the engraved names in search of one of several fallen comrades, killed on Fulox 6, a hill west of Da Nang. Crying out a name, he choked back tears.Berg has steered clear of a visit to The Wall at the capital, unsure that he could hold himself together there. He tried once at a traveling memorial in Mississippi to locate the names of all six buddies who died that day in December 1966 – the same day Berg was shot, ending his tour of duty.Overcome, Berg left The Wall in Mississippi before his task was complete. In Aspen, he has another chance to connect with those names, those memories. He was one of some 50 to 60 volunteers who gathered yesterday to erect the memorial.”I didn’t know if I was going to be able to handle it, but I did,” he said. “This is helping me immensely.”Bill Douglas, a member of the Finn Construction crew that abandoned their house-building duties Thursday to help put up panels and pound stakes, was on his hands and knees in the grass, scanning the names of those killed in April 1968. Somewhere there is his best friend from high school.

Debbie Poleri, a detention officer at the Pitkin County Jail, sought the name of a friend’s fiance.”I’ll never forget when my brother went,” she said. “The feeling, it was terrible. We’d watch the war on TV at night. Just like now.”Her brother was fortunate, serving stateside in the military police.A memorial ceremony is today from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., including the reading of the names of Coloradans who died in Vietnam. A fly-over by a pair of Huey helicopters will be followed by the display of the aircraft at the Aspen schools campus from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. They should land in the campus parking lot between 11:10 and 11:15 a.m.

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