Vietnam memorial wall honors veterans, lives lost


Derrin Coad

More than 58,000 names of fallen soldiers are etched on The Traveling Wall Vietnam Memorial, which was at the Coles County Fairgrounds in Charleston Thursday where it will stay until Sunday.

Derrin Coad, Staff Reporter

While Randy Whitley of Mattoon was visiting the Traveling Wall before Thursday evening’s ceremonies, the names he was reading began to stir up emotions and memories he experienced during his time in Vietnam.

As Whitley and his wife Karen approached the wall, she pointed out the name of his childhood friend who died in Vietnam prior to Whitley’s deployment.

He looked at his long-lost friend’s name for several seconds, removed his hat and stood in silence, paying respect to his friend.

The Traveling Wall, which is a memorial to veterans who served in the Vietnam War, is on display at the Cole County Fairgrounds until the closing ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Whitley said his brief nine-month service in Vietnam as a Navy Seabee was “the year a boy became a man,” as he experienced a number of close calls and saw his share of grief during the war.

Whitley said he was proud to see the wall come to Charleston and hopes it serves as a reminder and a history lesson for the younger generation.

“It’s something the younger kids need to understand, and appreciate the freedoms that we fought for,” Whitley said.

As an 80 percent replica of the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., the Traveling Wall is 360 feet wide and 8 feet tall at its peak.

Texas group American Veterans Traveling Tribute owns the wall, which was escorted to the Fairgrounds in procession Wednesday.

The wall displays the names of the 58,253 soldiers who were killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Thursday evening’s opening ceremonies, which commemorated the wall’s arrival in Charleston, began with Mattoon VFW Post 4325 posting the colors and were followed by Charleston Mayor Brandon Combs and Mattoon Mayor Tim Glover listing off soldiers from the area whose names are engraved on the wall.

Combs also asked for a moment of silence in honor of former Charleston Mayor Larry Rennels, who died June 25.

Later in the ceremony, several local organizations placed red, white and blue wreaths in front of the wall to honor the surviving veterans as well as the deaths.

The organizations presenting the wreaths included the Daughters of the American Revolution, American Gold Star Mothers, Windsor American Legion Post 725, Mattoon Women of the Moose, Charleston VFW Post 1592, as well as several other groups.

Betty Coffrin, a volunteer for the Charleston Fourth of July committee, said the planning to bring the wall to Charleston started after last year’s Red, White and Blue Days festivities.

After the committee secured the funding and finished planning out the programs, Coffrin said she is pleased to finally see her hard work pay off.

“The fact that we were able to bring (the wall) to Charleston and to see people really enjoy it is a crowning moment for the committee,” Coffrin said.


Derrin Coad can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].