JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Hundreds gathered at Newtown Park Nov. 13 for the grand opening of The Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
Saturday morning’s ceremonies, hosted by the Johns Creek Veterans Association and the City of Johns Creek, served to honor Vietnam War veterans and those who lost their lives in the war.
After leading attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Roger Wise spoke about the power of the memorial.
“It’s a wall that heals or starts the healing process,” Wise said. “Every time I’m in Washington [D.C.], I go to the wall, and there’s always somebody kneeling down, talking to it, laughing, crying, healing.”
Wise continued, sharing a story about his most recent visit to the wall in Johns Creek and how a young man whose father was killed in Vietnam before he was born finally felt as though he had met his father after seeing the memorial.
“That’s the power of this wall,” Wise said. “That’s the power of this memorial walk.”
Mayor Mike Bodker was the first to deliver official remarks, thanking veterans, the Veterans Association, the Recreation and Parks Department and all who contributed to bringing the wall to Johns Creek.
“This is a project of honor, tribute and love which so many have worked on to bring to fruition,” Bodker said. “Today is the day that we celebrate and honor service and hear from the residents and veterans who helped consecrate these grounds and memorial.”
Bodker then awarded President of the JCVA, Lt. Col. Mike Mizell with a proclamation from the Fulton County Commission, honoring the dedication of the memorial.
Mizell shared a brief history of the memorial, recounting its three-day visit in Johns Creek in 2017, before being permanently installed last year. Mizell then recited the poem, “A Soldier’s Honor,” which details the sacrifice made by those who serve.
Mizell also spoke of the debt owed to those who risk their lives in the military.
“We can never be grateful enough for the sacrifices that they’ve made, and we are humbled by their willingness to put their lives aside for the benefit of ours,” Mizell said.
Finally, Mizell spoke directly to the veterans.
“To my brothers and sisters, the Vietnam veterans, Vietnam-era veterans, to all veterans: welcome home. And welcome to your memorial park,” Mizell said.
Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame inductee Capt. Tommy Clack, who was wounded May 29, 1969, along the Cambodian border, also delivered remarks.
“I am blessed that but by the grace of God I know I would be listed on panel 23 west, line 13,” Clack said.
He went on to speak about how Vietnam War veterans were treated after the war and how he and his fellow veterans had worked to ensure that mistreatment does not happen again.
“You and I have ensured by what’s on that wall, that all generations after us are never treated that way,” Clack said. “When we look at that wall let it also remind us that if this country got enough money to fight a war, it had better find enough money to take care of the warrior and his friends and family.”
Col. Rick White, who was deployed to Vietnam in 1967 at age 19, shared the personal numbers behind the statistics about the war.
“During those Vietnam-era years, there were over nine million men and women serving in uniform worldwide,” White began. “On this wall there are a total of 58,317 names including eight women… They represent over 58,000 families and fellow warriors that grieve for them… the youngest here was 15… the oldest was 63.”
On the memorial wall White said there are 40 sets of brothers and three sets of fathers and sons. There are 1,564 names of those lost from Georgia.
“My friends and buddies that are here [on the wall] are numerous, and they include my medic who died in my arms,” White said. “There are many other young soldiers that were in my care and my responsibility that are on this wall. One of my best friends from Officer Candidate School and another, my OCS roommate are on this wall.”
White said that more than 10% of his training school class’ names are on the wall because they deployed during the high casualties of the Tet Offensive. White then listed the names of 13 friends he lost in the war.
“These 13 names are but a tiny fraction of the huge number on this wall, but by saying their names out loud, this is my way of honoring them and serves as a representation for all those names that today will go unspoken,” White said.
White shared the story of one of his lost friends and spoke of the sacrifice from each service man and woman. He then conveyed his thoughts about the power of the memorial wall.
“This wall, this holy wall is truly the wall that heals,” White said. “It, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington… provide for me and I hope for all Vietnam vets and the loved ones of those that have fallen, an almost inspirational, soothing salve as we reverently approach its shining black surface and touch the names of those that have served and that we have loved.”
“Each time I see this wall, I feel the presence of the men under my charge that I had lost in Vietnam, and I feel an almost quiet sense of calm and release,” White said. “It says my fallen brothers are telling me that they are at peace and rest, and they know that their platoon leader and their company commander, their friend, their brother, their fellow warrior did his best to protect him. And someday, we will all rendezvous on that final heavenly objective.”
The ceremony’s special guest speaker was Jim Knotts, CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Knotts is an Air Force veteran of the Persian Gulf War.
Knotts’ recounted the stories of several men and women listed on the memorial wall, introducing them to the guests.
“These are all people who now, are a permanent part of your community,” Knotts said.
To conclude the dedication ceremony, veterans built the soldier’s cross, and a Marine Corp Honor Guard performed a 21-gun salute. The Honor Guard’s bugler also performed “Taps.”
Finally, Mizell and Bodker shared the ceremonial scissors and officially cut the ribbon on the memorial.
The Wall That Heals can be visited every day between 6 a.m. and midnight.