A traveling version of the wall bearing the names of tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel who died in the Vietnam War is arriving in Niagara Falls Wednesday. The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, once assembled, will be on display through next Monday in the city's Hyde Park.
The traveling wall has appeared in Western New York before but this will be the first time it appears in Niagara Falls. Efforts to bring the exhibit to the Cataract City began more than two years ago, led by the Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial Commission.
An estimated 30 names among the more than 58,000 on the wall are local natives. Stan Zimmerman, vice chairman of the Commission and chairman of this specific project, recalled the late Gilbert Michael Nicklas. He went by Mike and was the best friend of Zimmerman's brother. Nicklas was killed in action during the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965. He was 20 years old.
"I'm honored to help bring this wall here to pay respects to Mike, like we are for all 58,232 names that are on the wall," said Zimmerman.
Wednesday is assembly day for the wall, which will be displayed in Hyde Park off Robbins Drive. An estimated 20 volunteers from Niagara Falls-based National Maintenance Contracting Corporation and 26 men and women from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station are assisting in the set-up, according to Zimmerman, while an estimated 200 volunteers will staff the wall as it remains open to the public around the clock.
Zimmerman, a retired US Air Force Master Sargeant, served in Vietnam and recalls how many came home to a hostile reception in what was a bitterly political and divisive war on the homefront. Decades later, as younger soldiers have come home to heroes' welcomes and public expressions of gratitude, Zimmerman was asked if he felt Americans have rethought their attitude towards the Vietnam generation.
"My personal opinion? I think many have," he replied. "I would only be speculating if I said a perentage or a number but I know I have watched it improve."
He says the kinder welcomes for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has come in great part through the support of Vietnam veterans who wouldn't let the younger generations endure the experience they had.
In addition to the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, there will be representatives of agencies present to provide information to veterans and families about benefits and other useful services.
A formal opening ceremony is scheduled for Thursday.