On a day where the freedom and protection of the country was on the mind of many Americans with the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, crowds gathered for a special ceremony Tuesday honoring all who have served in the U.S. military.
University Parkway Baptist Church, 219 University Parkway, welcomed the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, an exhibit presented by Return of the Wall Charities, which includes a Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica, a series of A-frames with information about every war and military conflict the U.S. has been involved in, World War II panels with a time line of events, graphics and photos, an eight-panel Korean War Tribute with maps and photos, as well as other Vietnam facts and figures.
Alexander Armor, representing Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2108, said he wanted to come to the exhibit’s opening ceremony to honor fallen friends, as well as those who fought in previous wars and conflicts.
“I’m an Iraqi Freedom vet and I wanted to come out and see the golden dog tags, which is a dog tag printed for everyone lost in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom,” Armor said. “I lost a lot of good friends and brothers there and it’s just a way for me to pay tribute to them, and also to pay tribute to those that lost their lives in Vietnam and who never got the thanks they deserved when they came home. It’s nice to see our country finally starting to give them the respect they deserve.”
Armor said he’s enjoyed taking in the exhibit, as well as meeting and seeing fellow soldiers from past wars.
“It’s a very emotional time when you realize all of the families and people that were touched,” he said. “Today is a symbol of the fact that the U.S. will never take a strike laying down and that we will always stand up to defend the freedoms that were granted to us by our forefathers and by the Constitution that every soldier — past, present and future — has sworn to uphold against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
The crowd gathered in a semi-circle around a casket draped with a U.S. flag, as speakers delivered messages for those who have served, are serving and will serve in the future.
There was a presentation of colors by regional Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force ROTCs, as well as the raising of the POW/MIA flag on the flagpoles in front of the church.
Chapter 979 of the Vietnam Veterans of America presented a wreath that was placed in front of the replica wall.
Bill Hampton, a volunteer with Return of the Wall Charities, member of Rolling Thunder Chapter 4 and Vietnam veteran, said he was thrilled to see the wall come to Johnson City this week.
“It’s just going to be a moving week, but to me it’s also an educational week,” Hampton said. “I think we have like 1,600 schoolchildren coming in on Friday and this will be a learning experience for them ... to realize what it took in our history to get where we are today.”
He said as a Vietnam veteran, seeing the wall tends to stir emotions from years past.
“I’ve been to the big wall in (Washington, D.C.) many times, but it’s still chilling just to see the vast number of names of young men like me, at the time, that didn’t make it back,” Hampton said.
Americans have many yearly reminders of the cost of freedom, including Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day and, of course, Sept. 11. Hampton said Tuesday’s remembrance of the events of that happened exactly 11 years ago also had its place at the exhibit.
“There is a 9/11 tribute involved with this entire display,” he said. “It all just fits together. It couldn’t be a more appropriate time.”
Hampton said he encourages everyone to come out to the exhibit.
“People in this community are very supportive of veterans,” he said. “People need to turn out this week and support this project and support the community and learn about our history of the military and of our emergency first responders.”
The exhibit will be open around the clock, with other events happening throughout the week. Closing ceremonies begin at 7 p.m. Saturday.
For more information on the itinerary of events for the exhibit, visit www.thewalljc.com.