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Words and image courtesy of Metter Advertiser

The downtown park looks a little empty now that the Wall That Heals has left town.

But in the five days that the Wall called Metter home, visitors flocked to the park at all hours of the day and night to remember and celebrate the lives of the 58,000-plus service men and women who died while serving in Vietnam.

It is estimated that during daytime hours alone, more than 6,000 visitors came to Metter’s park to experience the moving wall.

A warm welcome

The Wall arrived on Wednesday, Oct. 18, in a formal ceremony that involved the local community, veterans and family members of service members.

The convoy started at Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro at 10 a.m. The Wall, escorted by motorcycles and Corvettes, arrived in town and circled through the campuses of Metter High and Metter PreK-8, to the flag waving and excitement of Candler County students.

The Wall was set up and open for visitors by 5 p.m. Wednesday. On Thursday, the formal opening ceremony was held.

The ceremony included a Welcome to Veterans by Metter’s own Dixie Odom, a retired master sergeant from the U.S. Air Force and a Vietnam veteran.

In the controversial Vietnam War/Conflict, Odom said, “We carried out the orders that were given to us to the best of our abilities and training. However, unlike past wars and conflicts when the military were welcomed home with celebrations and appreciation, Vietnam veterans were an exception.

“In many instances, we were not gratefully and appreciatively welcomed home. We were spit on, cussed at, laughed at and ridiculed by many. Therefore, in addition to normal combat-related suffering, we suffered additional emotional distress from nonsupport of some of our fellow American citizens. Post-traumatic stress was not on the front burner as it is today. Organizations to help returning veterans and their families were basically non-existent. Therefore, Vietnam veterans were faced with overcoming combat-related issues pretty much on our own.”

This Wall, Odom said, “has and is an effort to help the healing process of us Vietnam Veterans and our families who experienced the negative aspects of the Vietnam War.”

Retired Colonel Paul Longgrear of the U.S. Army, also a veteran, addressed the park filled with local and area supporters.

“The names on there are heroes,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how they died. The fact that they were willing to go and serve with all the adversity that was going on about the Vietnam War at that time ... made a hero out of them to me.

“They were willing to lay their life down. Everyone of those people laid their life down for this country.”

Longgrear personalized his speech by talking about some of the servicemen he served with whose names are on the wall. “These were personal losses to me,” he said.

“Don’t just look at this wall as a piece of black granite; look at it as something that holds heroes,” he said.

As volunteers prepared to take the Wall down on Sunday for its journey to Texas, Commissioner Brad Jones spoke in a brief closing ceremony, thanking the volunteers and all community supporters for their work before and during the Wall’s stay.

“This is not only a Wall that Heals, but one that honors,” Jones said.

Complete video coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies can be seen on the newspaper’s facebook page (Metter Advertiser).

A dream come true

Bringing The Wall to Metter was a dream come true for Metter businessman Pernal Franklin.

It was Franklin and his wife Cathy who first experienced The Wall That Heals by happenstance while The Wall was in Blythewood, S.C. in 2016. And from that moment on, Franklin said he knew this was something that needed to be done in Metter.

“I had never heard of the traveling wall but was very impressed with the display and thought it would be fantastic to bring to Metter,” he said.

And once the Wall came last week, Franklin said, “Words cannot describe it for me.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled. I was told the money would come easy but that it was hard to get volunteers. But Ann and Jody Robertson did outstanding jobs. We needed 100 volunteers and we had over 160.”

In the earliest meetings of The Wall That Heals Planning Committee, the location of the Wall was not yet determined. However, the decision to put The Wall in the downtown park was definitely the right one.

“The park seemed like it was built for the Wall,” Franklin said. “At nighttime, it was just fabulous.”

“Everything I’ve heard has been nothing but positive,” he continued. “This community came together like they always do. And the committee did a marvelous job!”

See original article by Jerri Goodman

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Contact Information

Barry Turner
Vice President for College Advancement
Phone: 912.681.5500 | Email: bturner@ogeecheetech.edu