It was 20 years ago this week that Maya Lins controversial Vietnam Memorial opened on the mall in Washington, D.C., its black-granite walls displaying the names of more than 58,000 people killed in the Vietnam War - listed, as the inscription notes, in the order they were taken from us.
In the two decades since, the Wall has become a near-sacred site, the destination of pilgrimages of friends and family members trying to connect with loved ones who fell more than a generation ago in a conflict halfway around the world.
For others, though, even the distance to Washington is too much to overcome. Several veterans and organizations have recognized the need to bring the Wall to the people and have created portable versions; the largest of these is Don Penningtons American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a breathtaking, aluminum-paneled, 376-foot-long replica of the Memorial Wall.
It is the distinct honor this week of Columbia County that the Traveling Tribute is coming to our community - especially noteworthy as it coincides not just with the 20-year anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial, but falls during the week of Veterans Day.
It would be difficult to understate the praise that Columbia Countys Recreation Advisory Board has earned for getting a spot on the Traveling Tributes tight schedule. Visitors are expected to come from all over the Southeast to the Columbia County Merchants Association Fairgrounds to locate a loved ones name or just to catch a glimpse of the wall.
After volunteers help set up the wall Thursday morning, the Traveling Tribute will be available for public viewing, at no charge, from Thursday to Sunday, 24 hours per day. Don Brown, a local Vietnam veteran, says volunteers are making preparations to provide visitors with materials to allow them to make rubbings of the names on the Traveling Tributes etched surface.
While it wont detract from the often-somber nature of the Traveling Tributes display, the Advisory Board originally set up this weekends event as barbecue cook-off - and even without the Wall replica, that event has tremendous potential for success.
It is going to be interesting to mesh these things together, says Bobby Waters, the Recreation Advisory Board chairman and an event organizer. They all have different personalities.
Early in the planning stages of the cook-off, the advisory board scored a coup when it landed Memphis in May sanctioning for the event. The granddaddy of all barbecue cooking contests, Memphis in May - held, of course, in Memphis, Tenn., each May - draws top cooks from all over the country. Before they can enter, however, chefs must first win a spot in one of the countrys regional cook-offs. That means some of the best barbecue cooks anywhere will go head to head at the fairgrounds this weekend. Nearly 20 teams are expected.
The teams will set up Friday night and cook up until the competition Saturday, when the public also is invited to sample the food and check out the crafts displayed by vendors all day. Games for kids also are available.
The Recreation Advisory Board, an all-volunteer group, deserves applause for bringing both the Traveling Tribute and the barbecue cook-off to Columbia County, and for staging a fitting tribute to our communitys veterans.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.