American Veterans Traveling Tribute

Vietnam Memorial brings closure

Michael Wagar For The Reflector

PictureJohn DeRosa is a grizzled, tough-looking veteran, having survived five Vietnam War deployments, called "tours" back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Amboy resident has seen much in his 62 years. But this past Thursday, a simple monument dropped him to his knees and brought tears to his eyes.

DeRosa and thousands of others made the pilgrimage to La Center City Park this past week to see the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, the replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., which honors members of the U.S. armed forces who fought and died in the Vietnam War.

DeRosa stared at a section of the wall, remembering specifically his time on the USS Kittyhawk. DeRosa came to La Center to look up the names of William H. Reedy Jr., and Oliver Cooley. They both died during the war, in a plane that crashed just off the USS Kitty Hawk.

DeRosa whispers, his eyes squint, his voice breaks. He said he was supposed to be in the plane that crashed and killed his buddies. He switched out at the last moment. He was 19 years old.

"Somebody could be looking at my name right now," DeRosa said, as he stared at the names on the wall.

DeRosa's wife Judy was with him last Thursday. They have been married 35 years, with five children. That lifetime almost didn't happen. For the 58,253 names on the wall, each one represents a life lost.

"This means a great deal," Judy DeRosa said of the wall and its importance to her husband. "He's talked about these men many times. I think this is fantastic."

When John DeRosa came home from the war, he remembers being spit on, called a "baby killer," being rejected by many in his country he had fought for. It has taken his whole life since he came back home to overcome the war's impacts. This traveling wall helped soothe his pain.

"This makes me feel great," he said. "Finally we're getting the respect we deserve. This is a closing point for me. I know I would never be able to go back to D.C."

Still, the draw of the traveling wall was overshadowed by his fear of confronting the violent past of the war.

"It took everything I had to drive the six miles here," DeRosa said.

The traveling wall is called a replica, but it is powerful. At 80 percent the size of the original, the traveling wall stretches 370-feet long, rises 8-feet high. It cost almost $25,000 to bring the wall to La Center. La Center Police Chief Tim Hopkin brought the idea to the city council, which approved his vision. About half the money has been raised.

Last Thursday late afternoon, people slowly walked up to the wall, some alone, others in small groups of twos and threes.

Wendy Young of La Center slowly approached the beginning of one end of the wall. She was looking for Walter McIntosh, a soldier who was her best friend's older brother. When McIntosh died in 1967, Young was only 13. She remembers being told about the death, and also the funeral, "I remember the whole thing like it was yesterday," she said. It was an open casket. She remembers the uniform, and that his eyebrows had been singed off McIntosh's face.

At first she can't find his name among the tens of thousands. She soon finds her way to a tent off to the side that helps people locate the name. After a check into a computer database using the fallen soldier's name and hometown, Young is sent to a particular panel, and the number of the line where "Walter McIntosh" is engraved. They give her a fresh long-stem lily, a black piece of chalk and a thin piece of paper to make a chalk rubbing.

Young locates the name, kneels down and slowly rubs her fingers across the engraved letters.

She quietly gives a prayer.

"I told him I was glad he was in God's hands, wasn't suffering and I thanked him for his service," Young said.

"I think it's an awesome thing that La Center has done to bring it here," she said. "People don't thank the veterans as near as much as they should."

Young said she is patriotic and comes from a military family. She believes the money it took to bring the memorial to Southwest Washington was money well spent.

"This being able to come to the community, it is extremely moving," Young said. "It brings the reality forward of the sacrifices that were made because each name is a sacrifice."

Young pauses from talking to a reporter. She kneels down once again, and slowly rubs her fingers across the name of her best friend's older brother.