They came to remember, to pay their respects, to teach their children, to grieve, and to heal.
For five days this summer in Eureka, Ill., an emergency disaster services (EDS) team from the North and Central Illinois Division (NCI) stood beside families and individuals as they visited The Wall that Heals. The three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and mobile learning center honor the 58,281 men and women who lost their lives and more than three million Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the war. In its twenty-eighth season of traveling the country, it allows people who don’t have the means or time to go to Washington to see the memorial and grieve and helps communities remember the sacrifice.
In a very practical ministry, EDS team members provided snacks and 2,000 bottles of water to volunteers and visitors. In addition to managing the EDS truck, they walked the wall, especially during the searing afternoons, to offer chilled water and to talk with people. They listened to parents, spouses, children and veterans as they shared their stories.
“Some people would talk for quite a long time and others for a shorter time. I think that meant they needed to talk,” said Steve Johnson, NCI EDS chaplain. “Just recognizing their tears, being there, being willing to talk, being emotionally available, and handing a Kleenex was healing for them. That was valuable.”
“I am a Vietnam veteran myself, and that allowed me to make connections with people,” Steve added, reflecting on how these interactions brought back feelings and memories of being a helicopter mechanic in the war.
“Hearing people’s stories gives you a deeper appreciation for our military services and what people went through for our country, yet they were condemned for it,” said Mike Troth, NCI Central emotional and spiritual care (ESC) coordinator, who along with Steve gave out dozens of EDS teddy bears to children.
Mike also volunteered with others from the community to staff the wall, which had to be manned around the clock. He helped people find their friend’s or loved one’s name which can be daunting as names are listed by date of casualty, beginning to the right of the V’s point, flowing to the end of the wall, then looping back to the wall’s beginning on the left and ending at the V’s point.
The names of those killed first and last are thus across from each other.
“Many touched the wall, making imprints of a loved one’s name. Some walked the length of the wall touching each stone,” said EDS volunteer Chris Amick. “My brother lost a friend. I looked up his name on the wall. I remember when he was killed; I was 11.”
According to Sam Amick, NCI EDS director who arranged for the ministry at the request of local event coordinators—10 of whom now want to volunteer with EDS— The Salvation Army’s legacy of service during wars and conflicts made this a natural fit.
He concluded, “It was important for us to be there.”
To learn more about The Wall that Heals, visit vvmf.org