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Wall That Heals a chance for healing, education
Volunteers needed for the display’s visit
wall that heals presentation
Pictured from left to right are Barton County Commissioner Shawn Hutchinson, Mona Webb, Larry Parson, Chris Saenz and Monica Ortega at Wednesday morning’s commission meeting. Parson, on behalf of the Wall That Heals organization, presented Webb, Saenz and Ortega with a shadowbox honoring their brother Edward Saenz, a Marine who died in the Vietnam War. Edward will be among the local soldiers honored when the Wall comes to Great Bend May 11-14. “We appreciate your efforts,” Chris said. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Want to help with the Wall That Heals?

Those interested in volunteering for the Wall That Heals exhibit coming to Great Bend  Thursday through Sunday, May 11-14 can contact volunteer coordinator Kim Nollette at 620-617-5270. The display will be open 24 hours a day, so there are multiple shifts available.

Larry Parson hopes the Wall That Heals will help heal are Vietnam War veterans, and educate the community at the same time. Chairperson for The Wall That Heals/Great Bend Leadership Committee, he gave a presentation to the Barton County Commission Wednesday morning. 

The Wall is  a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It, along with a mobile Education Center, are coming to Great Bend Thursday through Sunday, May 11-14.

“A year ago, I decided that our Vietnam veterans were being forgotten,” Parson said. “And I thought maybe we need to do something about it. With only about 30% of the Vietnam veterans still alive, we should have done this sooner.”

The massive display will be located within Veterans Memorial Park’s Al Burns Field for security reasons. It will be open 24 hours a day and free to the public, Parsons said.  

“The Wall that Heals honors the more than three million Americans who served in the U.S. Armed forces in the Vietnam War and it bears the names of the 58,281 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam,” he said. Parsons’ group is working with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Committee to coordinate the visit.

He said he has four goals: Assist the Vietnam veterans in their healing process; recognize the families; educate the public and the youth; and to promote Great Bend and Barton County. 

“We should have a good turnout,” he said. Wall visits draw crowds of up to 17,000 people.

Although the display will be open for public viewing on that Thursday through Sunday, it is a much longer process, Parson said.

It will come from Kyle, Texas,  on Tuesday, May 9, escorted into Great Bend by between 40 and 80 motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard and  the American Legion Riders. 

The riders will meet the trucks at 10th Street and the U.S. 281 Bypass, and proceed west down 10th to Main, north from Main to 24th and west form 24th to K-96. The caravan will then head south to 17th Street Terrace to Al Burns Field.

“We want we want all you guys be out there watching us,” he said. All the schools along the route will have decorations and flags as well.

A big undertaking

The display is a heafty 70,000 pounds of stuff on a 53-foot trailer that will be parked in the ballfield parking lot. Then, on Wednesday, May 10, a team of 30 to 60 people will assemble. 

An army of volunteers is required to not only set up the display, but also man it throughout the day and night while it is here, he said. Two professional guides accompany the Wall and will be in charge.

They wanted this in September, but this is the week that worked into the schedule, he said. It will be a busy time with graduations and Mothers Day.

“So we’re having a little issue with finding volunteers for the Saturday and Sunday,” he said. Volunteers are needed through the week as well. 

Then, there is Mother Nature.

“We don’t know what the weather’s going to be. That’s my biggest fear,” he said. Other events in California this year have been rained out. 

The organization only allows 30 communities  to host the wall each year. Great Bend was one of 100 applications.

The schedule

On Thursday, May 11, is the opening ceremony. “We will honor six different Vietnam veterans (from Barton County) who were killed in Vietnam,” he said, adding that Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Great Bend native, will also speak. 

That afternoon, 600 social studies students from Great Bend High School will visit in groups of 50 at a time, he said. “So if you’re planning on coming, it’d be better to come after 3:30” because things will have quieted down some by then.

They will dismantle the Wall Sunday and it will head on to Rhinelander, Wis.

This is the largest touring Vietnam wall display and comes with the mobile educational trailer.

 In addition to the other memorabilia will be tributes to “hometown heroes,” he said. These will include those who died during the conflict and those who came home changed by their experiences, such as the late Don Cates, a former county commissioner who died in spray plane crash.

He thanked the City of Great Bend for allowing a host of city departments to help, USD 428 for its support and the county for allowing him the chance to make his presentation.

Parsons and his family have secured funding from the Dorothy Morrison Foundation and the Great Bend Foundation to bring this here.