As Taps played at the opening ceremonies of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Wall, an emotional Diane Moore tightly hugged her grandson, who was just introduced to his great-grandfather, Thomas Moore, a still-missing soldier of the Vietnam War.
Moore and many other veterans, relatives and friends gathered at the Columbia County fairgrounds for the opening ceremonies Friday morning.
The tribute, brought in by the Columbia County Recreation Advisory Board, was assembled by volunteers Thursday and was open 24 hours a day until Monday morning, when it was taken down. Bobby Waters, board member and an event organizer, recalled families and veterans at the wall until midnight Thursday.
State Sen. Joey Brush, who introduced the keynote speaker, referred to the lost but not forgotten names on the wall as "those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom."
For Doug Hastings, a four-tour Vietnam veteran, it took a lot of courage to visit the original monument in Washington in 1997. He read a very moving poem about his experience there that brought much of the watching crowd to tears.
The keynote speaker, retired commanding Sgt. Maj. Jim Hussey, of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood's office, was broken up during his own speech about the wall and his experiences in Vietnam.
"Peace did not come free. It did not come with the passage of a law. It was paid for by the blood and sweat of veterans like those on the wall," Hussey said in his speech. "So many of them failed to come home to help preserve our freedom. They paid the ultimate price."
Two days later, state Sen. Ben Harbin echoed those comments during the wall's closing ceremony.
Visitors view the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Wall at the Columbia County fairgrounds.
Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker
"Today - and every day - we remember those who stood in freedom's defense," he said as a winter wind whipped around the fairgrounds. "Men and women who bravely walked on the field of battle and put on the armor of war. They gave their lives so our nation would have liberty and we could pursue happiness."
Against the backdrop of the wall, Harbin challenged audience members Sunday to continue America's commitment to preserving freedom that has was strengthened the "cowardly" attacks of Sept. 11. Continuing the fight, he said, is the best way to honor those killed or missing in Vietnam.
"Being a hero is a requirement," he said. "It is a requirement because the heroes on that wall require it."
He also asked people to remember that the names on the wall are more than etched words.
"Each person on this wall was a mother or father, a brother or sister, a son or daughter," he said. "Now we owe a debt we can never truly repay. But we must try."
By lunchtime Monday, the aircraft-aluminum structure had been loaded into a truck and was heading to its next stop - Gainesville, Fla.
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