“I don’t remember their names but I can see their faces,” recalled Dr. Don Christiansen, a retired Major in the Army.
He and his wife traveled to Pflugerville’s Pfennig Park on Veteran’s Day to visit the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, looking for someone in particular.
“One of my best friends was killed right beside me,” Christiansen said.
The doctor received a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. He left a wife and three-year-old daughter behind to provide medical attention on the field of battle.
Christiansen joined Joe Lam, who joined the war at just 19-years-old.
“I had never seen that many people starving in my life – in the villages,” recalled Lum.
Lum says the experience broadened his horizons and helped him understand that kindness is more important than anything. He has used that outlook since returning from war, to help others.
“Years down the road, these veterans are still struggling,” he explained.
Both veterans have seen the full Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. They say they feel honored to have it in Central Texas on the 11th day of the 11th month.
It’s thanks to Pamela Cosel with the city of Pflugerville, who reserved the date early in the year. Together with a team of Parks and Streets Department staff, volunteers and the American Legion, things came together.
“I grew up in the Vietnam era,” said Cosel. “These men – 58,000 of them – didn’t have a choice. They were drafted. Today we remember them. It’s about the people, not the politics of war.”
The traveling memorial isn’t just about those who died during the war. It’s also about those who died in the years after, like Gary Wiley, who would have been 67-years-old on Friday.
The sharp shooter shares a birthday with Veterans Day. He died in 2012 to suicide. Wiley’s daughter, Sonya, scattered his ashes at the memorial to fulfill her father’s final wishes.
“The last thing he said was, ‘I’m going to see my brothers,’” explained Wiley. “And now there’s a piece of him with his brothers forever.”
The wall travels to every corner of America, soaking up every fingerprint and heartbeat caught up in the ripple effect of war.
“There are so many who came back and their lives were still left there,” added Wiley.
She wants more people to understand the devastating effects of PTSD and veteran suicide. “They deserve our respect and they deserve our help.”
The wall is open 24 hours a day with police and volunteers on-site. It will be at Pfennig Park until Sunday.