03/10/13 — A traveling tribute

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A traveling tribute

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 10, 2013 1:50 AM

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Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition members Bill Graham, left, and Al Greene stand next to the plaque that honors Wayne residents who died in the Vietnam War. The men are two of the many local veterans who have worked hard to bring The Wall that Heals to Goldsboro.

There will be memories to share and heroes to honor as the Wall That Heals makes its mid-April visit to Goldsboro.

One of them will be a fighter pilot who was shot down and evaded capture -- another, a self-described farm boy, who earned the Medal of Honor.

And their will also be a chance to honor the men and women who died in service to their country in Vietnam -- especially the sons of Wayne County who never made it home.

But even now that the program is set, the work, for those who organized what many local veterans are characterizing as the most significant event to ever occur in Wayne, is just beginning.

The Wall That Heals -- a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. -- will soon spend a week on Wayne Community College's greens.

And already, those who are on the organizing team say they have been impressed with how this community has rallied around their call to provide the funding -- and the volunteers -- to bring the tribute to the men who fought and died in Southeast Asia to Goldsboro.

"We have been amazed by the response," said Bill Graham, spokesman for the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition, one of the many veterans who have joined with the Foundation of Wayne Community College to bring the wall to the city next month. "Every time we have asked for something, someone has been right there to offer it. It has been very gratifying to see the community support this effort."

Graham said he and his fellow organizers do not really know what to expect when the wall arrives April 16.

A few years ago, Kinston hosted the tribute and drew 18,000 people. He said many people think the Goldsboro visit could draw significantly more.

"This is the only place it will be in North Carolina this year," he said.

Planning is already in full swing, Graham added, noting that there are several significant events planned leading up to the wall's arrival, including a welcome by 100 local motorcycle riders and an escort by the county sheriff and other law enforcement personnel at the county line. Residents are being asked to join the welcome by lining Wayne Memorial Drive as the wall makes its way to Wayne Community College.

"We need people to be there about 3:30 p.m. -- and we are expecting hundreds," Graham said.

Anyone is welcome. Many schools have already called to ask if they can bring students to see the procession, Graham added.

"Bring your flags," he said.

The wall is coming from South Boston, Va., about two and a half hours from Goldsboro and will be accompanied by many veterans' groups along the way until it is met by the motorcycle riders at the county line.

Graham said that once the wall is at the college, volunteers will be needed to set it up. Anyone interested in volunteering can call Graham at 919-394-2200.

The Wall that Heals is about 250 feet in length and, like the original Memorial, is erected in a chevron shape.

It will travel down U.S. 70 to Wayne Memorial and then will be installed on the south side of the Wayne Community College campus.

Foundation spokesman Jack Kannan said the college is offering the site not only because of the chance to honor those who have served, but also to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the community college system.

College president Dr. Kay Albertson said WCC is honored to host such a worthy community event.

"We are thrilled to bring The Wall that Heals to our campus. It signifies the great amount of courage, commitment and sacrifice made by those who have served our country," Dr. Albertson said. "Wayne Community College is honored to be a part of this remarkable community event, and for the opportunity to collaborate with the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. We are also truly thankful for the support of Wayne County and the city of Goldsboro."

Graham said donations are still needed to cover the expenses not only for the wall's visit, but for the many activities and events that are being planned for the week.

"Every little bit helps," he said. "There have already been many, many volunteers who have offered without hesitation to support this event. We are grateful to all of them.

"We want to do this right."

While the wall is in Wayne County, local veterans will be watching over it -- and members of the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base community will be active in the week's events as well, offering not only the Color Guard, but volunteers and support as well.

"Col. Jeannie Leavitt has expressed to us that the base is proud to be part of this effort," Kannan said, adding that the 4th Fighter Wing Commander is scheduled to deliver the closing address for the event.

The full schedule will be released as the event nears, but more and more activities and surprises will be announced as the planning continues -- including an essay contest and a special tribute to be hosted by the county's Boy and Girl Scouts.

"We are very excited about sharing all we have planned for the week," Graham said. "There will be many ways for the community to help us honor these heroes."