Healing? – A veteran of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam talks about the war with his lady.
Last week a tractor-trailer carrying a memorial to veterans of the Vietnam War came to town. It was part of ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the United States’ official withdrawal from Vietnam, following nearly a decade of blood-letting conflict that led to bitter dissension at home and demoralized our military men and women. Two years later, Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell to the communist North.
The rig came to Columbus, Ohio, near where I live, with the Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Like the original, the traveling wall is inscribed with names of those who were killed or went missing in that war. It’s a special thing carried by a special truck.
Bob & Brenda Dobek will drive their KW T600B and the display trailer to 19 sites by Veterans Day in November. Columbus, Ohio, was their first stop.
The drivers are Bob Dobek and his wife Brenda, both 61. Bob said he was in the U.S. Army for 25 years, with tours in Vietnam, Korea and Germany, among other places, before emerging as a sergeant first class in 1995. Afterwards he Brenda worked as long-haul truckers for Midwest Coast Transport out of Sioux Falls, S.D., until they heard an ad for this job over the truckers’ channel on SiriusXM satellite radio. They’ve been doing this for about four years.
They manage the wall while it’s displayed, watch after the rig and store it at their home in northwest Iowa during winter downtimes. He said this wall is one of six that travel around the country from spring to autumn, but is the only one officially connected to the original wall in D.C. It’s part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (www.vvmf.org).
Bob said he’s originally from Michigan, and two of the 58,282 names on the wall’s sheet-aluminum panels are those of school chums, both killed in Vietnam.
Custom-built 53 x 102 Featherlite van carries Wall That Heals’ panels and a computer list of its names.
The trailer that carries those panels from site to site is a 53-by-102 Featherlite, custom-built on a “toy hauler” chassis at the company’s plant in Cresco, Iowa. It’s pulled by an ’07 Kenworth T600B with an 86-inch Studio Sleeper; Bob said it has a Cat C-13 with an Eaton UltraShift, and is provided by New Century Transportation of West Ampton, N.J., whose owner is a Marine Corps veteran.
The loaded rig grosses 45,200 pounds, Bob said, and the trailer tracks more like a 28-footer because its tandem is set well forward. Its tires are set at maximum width so he has to watch out for curbs and people’s toes. Columbus was the first stop for the rig and its display this season; 18 more are on the schedule before it ties up for the winter, after Veterans Day in November.
The trailer houses eight displays viewed from outside, plus a small office with a computer that holds the list of names so family and friends can locate them. When assembled, the wall stretches 250 feet, so trying to find a loved one’s name by visual search might otherwise take days. Bob knows exactly where his friends’ names are: Craig T. Reska, panel 6W, line 55, and Gerald A. Davis, panel 2W, line 8.
“So this takes on personal meaning,” Bob said of the wall and his involvement with it.
As a Vietnam vet myself – a “rear-area” support type, I always point out – I faintly knew two guys who were killed there, but they weren’t friends. Still, when I visited the original stone edifice in Washington a few years after it was erected in 1982, I was almost brought to tears by the scene: weeping women and men, some leaving flowers and notes, still rather young about 10 years after the war’s end, but worn and aged by their losses. How are they all doing now, I sometimes wonder. Were they able to get on with their lives?
The traveling wall is less imposing but still inspiring. While I was there last Friday, gray-haired vets, some wearing old uniform jackets with combat patches and badges, and some accompanied by wives or lady friends, stood and gazed at the panels, and talked quietly. A few grim-faced fellas pointed at names of fallen comrades. Perhaps the wall was healing them because, as psychologists say, talking about painful memories helps.
Now we have casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, and surviving families, vets and their loved ones are going through similar suffering. Though still human tragedies, their numbers are far fewer, and we can be thankful that any tractor-trailers carting memorials to them and their wars need not be as big.