Memorial walls go on display in Irvine
Two traveling war memorials are stationed in Irvine through Sunday, allowing local residents to honor fallen service members and heal in their hometown.
For the first time, The Wall That Heals and The Global War on Terror Wall of Remembrance are on display together 24 hours a day at Woodbridge Community Park.
7 p.m.:Candlelighting ceremony in tribute to prisoners of war and those missing in action. Red shirts are encouraged to “remember every deployed.”
10 a.m.:Main welcome and gratitude ceremony, including an address by Irvine Mayor Steven Choi.
6 p.m.:Closing ceremony and the Honor Walk of Flags, a ceremony in which donors who give $100 receive an American flag that can be dedicated to a family member, friend or local hero.
Attendees are encouraged to bring folding chairs or blankets.
Woodbridge Community Park is at 20 Lake Road.
The Global War on Terror Wall of Remembrance will head to Redding next.
With more than 58,000 names, The Wall That Heals is a half-scale replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., while The Wall of Remembrance honors the 2 million veterans and civilians involved in the War on Terror.
Ceremonies will be every day at the memorials. Here are some of the stories from the memorials:
Joe Martinez, 64, of Irvine
First lieutenant, 25th Infantry Division in the U.S. Army
The sun-drenched lawn at Woodbridge Community Park is a far cry from the sweating jungles of Vietnam, where veteran Joe Martinez lost four friends.
Flanked by their twin daughters, Martinez and his wife Cathy sought out their names on The Wall That Heals and two others on The Global War on Terror Wall of Remembrance.
Martinez remembers sneaking into Cambodia in 1970 to search for caches of hidden ammunition. He remembers a pregnant woman who died while her unborn child was still alive. He remembers “when communism was a threat.”
His daughters are only 10, but he doesn’t let them forget. They leave flowers and do rubbings of the etchings at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, and they’re already looking forward to visiting the real Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., in a few years.
He starts talking more quickly as he criticizes professors who take hard political stances against the war but didn’t serve in Vietnam.
“We went in to try to do what’s right,” he said. “You have to do certain things to protect people.”
Behind every name is a story, he reminds his daughters.
“Freedom isn’t cheap,” he said.
Bernard Robertson, 69, of Placentia.
Vietnam corporal in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines.
Alone with memories before The Wall That Heals, Bernard Robertson saluted his fallen friends, then began counting rows, a finger trailing down the wall as he looked for a familiar name. He knelt on one knee, head bowed.
“There’ll never be an end to it for us,” said Robertson, a Vietnam veteran. “It’s just etched in your memory.”
He came to remember four men he served with in Vietnam and, across the grass field at Woodbridge Community Park, honor his adopted son on the Global War on Terror Wall of Remembrance.
Staff Sgt. William Merrill Harrell of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, was killed in Iraq in 2004, leaving behind a wife and son. He was 30. Harrell was Robertson’s nephew, but Robertson raised him since Harrell was 4 years old.
Robertson has visited his friends on The Wall That Heals four times throughout the country. It’s a little different each time, he says, adding another chapter to a decadeslong healing process.
“We just don’t want to forget lest it happens again,” he said.
Ryan Yohn, 35, and sons Aiden, 7, and Thomas, 3, of Irvine
As though he were fostering religious faith, Ryan Yohn is planting the seeds of the cost of freedom in his boys while they’re still young.
An American history teacher in Westminster, Yohn knows that repetition is essential. Every night before dinner, the family prays for the troops in Afghanistan. Yohn visited the traveling walls with his boys at midday Thursday and returned later with his wife.
Yohn’s father served in Vietnam with the Marines, but thankfully no one they know is listed on the walls.
His two sons are still figuring out what it all means to them. Aiden shied away from the question, but his little brother Thomas responded eagerly in a series of nearly unintelligible phrases. His father translated: He’s talking about a quad amputee whose recovery has gone viral on YouTube.
At 3, Thomas already knows the story of Taylor Morris, who lost his arms and legs in Afghanistan in 2012.
Rather than shield his sons from the darker facts of war, Yohn is determined for them to know what sacrifice truly means.
“If they have that inside, it’ll apply to everything they do in life,” he said.
Gopal Vashishtha, 15, and Bill Zan, 16, of Irvine
Two University High School students walked through a sobering history lesson Thursday morning at the memorials.
Gopal Vashishtha and Bill Zan were in summer school Wednesday when they saw more than 300 motorcycles pass with The Wall That Heals. The thunder of engines reminded them to visit the park.
After studying the Vietnam War in history class this year, they didn’t think highly of the conflict.
“It was a generally unjust example of American imperialism,” Vashishtha said. Zan called it “a waste of time.”
But seeing the names stretched out before them and standing among men who actually served in Vietnam brought life to their textbooks.
“I didn’t think the consequences were that big,” Vashishtha said, remembering the many more Vietnamese were killed.
The students don’t know anyone who has served in the U.S. armed forces, but if they did, they’d probably support the troops if not the politics, they said.
For now, the competitive culture at University High makes life a fast-paced rat race to a job and security, according to Vashishtha. Life comes later for most.
But for those whose names are enshrined on the walls – some who weren’t much older than Vashishtha and Zan – later doesn’t exist. If he were in the military, Vashishtha said, he might see things differently.
“Every single second is precious,” he said. “If you don’t live now, then you’re never going to live. You’re always waiting to live.”
Michael Grace, 13, and Jayden Grace, 9, of Irvine
After exploring military vehicles parked on the lawn, Michael and Jayden Grace drifted to the Global War on Terror Wall of Remembrance and walked slowly past the long list of names.
Unlike most visitors, the two brothers didn’t pause by any of the panels. No one they knew was listed on the walls, and though their uncle had served in Vietnam, he made it home alive.
But standing before text representing each life and story lost, the boys could only muster up a word each to describe the experience.
“Tragic,” Michael said shyly. “Sad,” Jayden echoed.
Michael had thought about joining the armed forces when he was older, but his mom didn’t want him to. She didn’t want him to die, he said.
“I wish there was no war so there’d be peace and no more people dying,” he said.
But the brothers didn’t know how to make their wishes a reality.
“I’m only one person,” Michael said.
Genia Meyer of Mission Viejo, and Susie Mallett Rodgers of Anaheim.
Meyer’s son – Brandon Abbott Meyer, a specialist in the U.S. Army – was killed in Iraq in 2008.
Genia Meyer folded and unfolded a tissue, switching between joking and choking up as she recalled the young man who was a little quiet but humorous, and somewhat of a smart aleck.
Brandon Abbott Meyer spent a little time attending Concordia University in Irvine, far away from his family in Texas. He soon enlisted in the Army, a goal he’d been eyeing as early as seventh grade, though his parents never knew.
On one visit home after basic training, Genia Meyer remembers her son telling her, “Mom, I don’t think I’m going to live to be real old.”
He shipped out to Iraq in 2008, and two months later, he was killed in action six days before he could legally buy a drink back home.
At Brandon’s funeral in Orange, where his wife lived, Genia Meyer met Susie Mallett Rodgers, who was then the president of the Orange County chapter of the Blue Star Mothers, a nationwide organization that supports the families of military personnel. For years, Rodgers, whose son served and survived, placed flowers on Brandon’s grave in Corona del Mar for Genia Meyer and made sure it was clean.
“I think of all the lost stories,” Rodgers said, gesturing to the wall.
But now Meyer, who moved to Mission Viejo a few months ago, can visit her son’s grave anytime. She volunteers with New Directions for Veterans, helping service members adjust to civilian life.
“I spend a fortune on flowers,” she said. “I should be a florist.”
But for those who can’t move to another state or make the trip to Washington, D.C., the two friends agree that the traveling walls are important to bring the healing home.
“It’s not just a national sacrifice; it’s a local sacrifice,” Rodgers said.