Vietnam Wall replica to visit L-A

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LEWISTON – A national funeral home chain, after listening to the pleas of local veterans, is making plans to bring its replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Lewiston.

The 8-foot-tall, 240-feet long replica is scheduled to be displayed in Veterans Memorial Park in September.

Though the visit won’t happen for eight months, planning is already under way.

Motorcycle escorts, school tie-ins and a round-the-clock watch on the site are all being decided upon.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved a measure that would provide some site help, electricity and fencing to the riverside site.

Already, a first meeting of volunteers with the funeral home company, Service Corporation International and its Lewiston-Auburn affiliate, the Fortin Group, drew more than 40 people.

“It was unbelievable,” said Bert Dutil, who leads the Lewiston-Auburn Veterans Council.

The demand from veterans to bring the wall to Lewiston-Auburn led Dutil to approach Ann Dehetre-Arsenault at the Fortin Group.

The community was last visited by a replica of the wall in 2001.

“People kept saying, ‘We’d like to bring it back,'” said Dutil, a Korean War veteran. When the wall visited South Portland last year, the requests only grew.

Local enthusiasm for the wall is what convinced the funeral company to bring it to Lewiston, said Robert Barnes, a vice president with SCI’s northeast division.

The company brings the wall to 20 cities a year. There is no cost.

This wall will be bigger than the previous half-sized replica that came. At three-quarters scale, it will almost fill the edge of the downtown park.

Yet, it’s the names – the more than 58,000 people who died in Vietnam – that make the wall moving.

“If it was 3 feet tall and 10 feet long, it would be emotional,” said Emmett Stuart, commander of American Legion Post 153 in New Auburn.

The wall has a way of touching the heartache in so many people, whether they went to Vietnam or not, said Stuart, who served during the Korean War era.

Whenever he has visited the wall in Washington or its replicas, Stuart finds himself getting choked up. He finds the names of high school classmates or a particular helicopter pilot he knew.

“It’s a tribute,” he said. “I think it’s going to be awesome. I really do.”

Along with the wall, which is transported in 48 panels on a single tractor-trailer, the display also includes artifacts from the war.

Dutil hopes to bring local schoolchildren to visit and learn. There will also be quiet times, when veterans can expect to be alone with their thoughts and memories.

Master Chief Donald Holman, the highest ranking enlisted person at Brunswick Naval Air Station, plans to organize a contingent of Navy volunteers to keep a 24-hours-a-day presence at the site, in part for the late-night visits.

Some veterans tend to visit at 3 a.m., when they can have privacy.

“They come at all hours of the night,” Stuart said. “They don’t want to talk to anybody. They want to be alone. That’s OK.”

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