09/14/11 — Wall for brothers

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Wall for brothers

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 14, 2011 1:46 PM

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Moments before a group of bikers escorted a replica of the Vietnam Memorial from Shelton's Harley-Davidson to Kinston's Emma Webb Park, Patriot Guard Rider William Amerson Jr., right, shares an emotional exchange with a man who said he lost several friends in Vietnam.

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The "Wall that Heals," a 50-percent replica of the Vietnam Memorial, is transported across the country in this truck. Tuesday, it made a stop in Goldsboro before resuming its journey to Kinston.

William Amerson scanned the faces in a crowd of men and women dressed in blue jeans, bandannas and leather vests covered in patches depicting everything from the American flag to a soldier's rifle.

"How many of you guys are Vietnam vets?" he asked.

Dozens of tattooed arms extended to the sky.

"Well, welcome home," he said, before applauding the men for their service. "Welcome home."

Moments later, he pointed to a truck parked a hundred yards away -- the guardian, he said, of a replica designed to ease the pain still felt by those who lost comrades and loved ones in a country the American military withdrew from without declaring victory in a conflict that divided the nation.

And starting Thursday in Kinston's Emma Webb Park, the half-size version of the Vietnam Memorial will be on display -- and ready, Amerson said, to host everything from public viewings to personal vigils.

The "Wall that Heals" -- a 50-percent replica that spans some 250 feet and contains each of the 58,000-plus names of those who never made it home from the war -- made a brief stop in the Shelton's Harley-Davidson parking lot Tuesday before continuing its journey to the park it will call home from an opening ceremony Thursday at 10 a.m. through Sunday.

And since its creation in 1996, the tribute, Amerson said, has brought a sense of closure to thousands.

Those who wish to visit the wall during its stint in eastern North Carolina -- there is no charge to view the exhibit and it will be open 24 hours a day -- need only show up in Kinston.

But for some, just seeing the truck was an emotional experience.

Like the Wayne County man who showed up in that parking lot on his motorcycle to join the procession.

"I'm a first time rider, but I'd like to join you guys," he said to Amerson, before choking up. "I have several buddies on that wall."

Amerson put a hand on the man's shoulder and pulled him in for a brief embrace.

"We're glad you're here," he said. "Now let's ride."