Exactly at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 29, a solitary F100-F Supersabre jet fighter roared over the Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum on O’Day Road to the cheers of hundreds of people, mostly veterans, who were on hand for the dedication and unveiling of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
At the command of Greg Bedford, commander of the VNSM, huge black plastic sheets were drawn from over the top of the structure to reveal the Vietnam Memorial Wall gleaming in the sun in its new home here in Allen County.
The Wall, which is the latest permanent addition to the Shrine, had traveled around the country for many years. Ground-breaking was held Nov. 11, 2020, and construction was completed May 15, 2021. It is an 80% replica of the original wall in Washington, D.C. Its 70 aluminum panels, which stretch 360 feet from south to north, rest on a black colorized concrete base that is constructed to withstand 120-mph wind.
One of the speakers, Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters presented a check from the county for $554,000. He pointed out that “the $6 million project is expected to draw around 240,000 visitors from the surrounding six states in the first year and be a big contributor to the Fort Wayne/Allen County economy.”
Following the unveiling, visitors to the Shrine immediately flocked to the Wall to search for names of relatives and friends listed among the 58,320 men and women who died in the Vietnam War. A total of 1,534 of them are from Indiana and 79 are from Allen County. Two stands holding lists of all the names and where to find them on the Wall are placed along the 8-foot-wide walkway in front of the monument. Some visitors came prepared with paper and pencils to make a stencil of the name of their honored veteran.
Names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice are listed starting in the middle of the Wall on the tallest panels by the date they died and going down to the smallest panels at the south end. They restart then at the north end and go toward the middle with those who died at or near the end of the war listed in the panel next to those who died at the beginning of the war.
Second Vice Commander Eric Johnson and First Vice Commander Pat Fraizer served as masters of ceremonies and introduced a host of speakers who were involved in the development and construction of the Wall. They included Mark Hagerman, chairman emeritus of Hagerman Group; Doug McKibben, president and CEO of Glenbrook Automotive Group; and Urban Ley, superintendent of Crosby Excavating. All expressed their pride in the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and the importance of the Wall that honors their memory.
Many people took the opportunity (for a $100 donation) to ride in one of the two American Huey 369 Organization helicopters brought in from Peru, Indiana, for the weekend. Vietnam re-enactors were on site for the weekend, as well.
The national anthem was sung by Angi Newkirk, Chaplain Marc Tjaden led the prayer, the Mizpah Shrine Bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” Marine Corps lifetime member Victor Alvarez played taps and the American Legion Band of Fort Wayne played a variety of patriotic music.
Because of a lack of parking spaces at the site, visitors parked for free at BAE Systems on U.S. 30 and were shuttled to the Shrine for the dedication.
The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum, at 2122 O’Day Road, also will host events on June 14 — Army birthday and Flag Day — and July 4, Independence Day.
The grounds are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Museum hours are Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Saturday, 11 a m.-3 p.m.
Admission to the museum and grounds is free; however, donations are gratefully accepted.
For more information, visit honoringforever.org.