‘Hundreds Gather To Honor and Remember Veterans
The program that formally signaled the arrival of “The Wall That Heals” was emotional, but never more so than when Vietnam veterans in the crowd were asked to stand or to raise their hand.
“Thank you!” bellowed former U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons, himself a Vietnam vet, who was the keynote speaker for Thursday’s opening ceremonies in Center Memorial Park. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
A warm ovation spilled through the park, where hundreds of people had gathered. They were there because for four days, Manchester is hosting a 250-foot half-scale replica of the Vietnam memorial that is visited by millions of travelers to Washington D.C. each year.
“This is a nice memorial for the soldiers who died,” said Juan Carlos Romero, one of many Manchester students in attendance. “They fought for our freedom and that gives us more than enough reason to respect them.”
Juan Carlos was with a group escorted by Dr. David Brysgel, a longtime assistant principal at MHS who now works with the district’s transition program.
Brysgel was in the Army National Guard starting in the late 1960s and although he never went to Vietnam, he served and wore military gear at a time when our nation was conflicted and divided.
“People called us baby killers and spit on us,” he said. “We were treated horribly.”
Brysgel said two of the 14 students with him in the transition program have uncles who died in Vietnam -- and have their names etched on the wall. He said the students have had discussions about the war and would be writing journal entries about their experience on Thursday.
Most of the students in attendance Thursday were actually from Rockville High School -- which sent all of its junior class over in buses.
However, the MHS marching band and Roundtable singers performed during the ceremony, as did members of the orchestra. Later Thursday, Bennet students walked to the park and spent time inspecting the wall and talking to veterans.
Manchester students will descending on the park in droves on Friday, including lots of students from Illing -- who in the spring will be making their traditional grade 8 pilgrimage to D.C. and get to see the full-size version.
The Memorial -- which includes a mobile education center and an information tent -- is open to visitors non-stop until Sunday afternoon, when closing ceremonies are scheduled for 2 p.m.