Replica Vietnam Memorial Wall evokes genuine reaction in Sonoma County

A somber and sacred display opened Wednesday afternoon in Sonoma County: a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall- engraved with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died in Southeast Asia over a 20-year conflict.  

The wall will be open in Windsor, at the Wilson Ranch Soccer Park, until Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. 
LED lights illuminate the wall so that it is open around the clock. 

"You are at one with death and walk among them," said Tim Tetz of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built both the permanent memorial and the traveling one. 

Tetz described the design as overwhelmingly simple, with rows of names rising from the earth. 

"As you walk away, you walk back into the life that is," said Tetz, "so you can't help but be swallowed by it and you can't help but re-emerge".

The replica wall is made of synthetic granite, two-thirds the size of the original, running 375 feet long and 7.5 feet tall at its highest point. 

The reactions to both memorials are the same.   

"Tears and crying and outright sobbing," said Tetz, "and folks who are not able to approach the wall but on the fourth day they finally get there."

Called "The Wall That Heals", the display is set up in more than 30 cities a year., although four times that number apply. 

As soon as it was assembled in Windsor, people came.   

"I want them to know what happened, because people don't know," said Navy veteran David Kahn, who led the effort to bring the wall to Windsor. 

He is a member of Russian River Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 768, based in Healdsburg, which provides ongoing support and services to veterans of all wars. 

"I feel sorry for the guys who are coming back now," said Kahn, "because they're in worse shape than we were, from the sand wars, is what we call them." 

55 names from Sonoma County are on the wall.  

The tractor trailer that carries the memorial is also a traveling exhibit, displaying memorabilia of the era, including items people have left at the Washington, D.C. wall over the years. 

"Four hundred thousand things have been left there," explained one tour guide, "an incredible amount of dog tags, and P.O.W. and M.I.A. bracelets, plus photographs, thousands of photographs." 

Over the next three days, people will leave mementos behind in Windsor as well.   

"Daniel Acosta is a classmate," said Navy veteran Tony Rambonga, reaching out to touch the name of a friend. 

Rambonga has visited the mobile wall a half-dozen times in different cities. 

"To us it's like a pilgrimage, we've got to remember," Rambonga told KTVU, " because they don't teach this in school, so we've just got to keep remembering." 

Ramonga will volunteer at the wall as well, spending the night, standing guard. 

"Volunteering, coming out here and educating people makes us feel good about ourselves," said Rambonga, "and we want to remind people we still loved our country, even though our country didn't love us when we came back."

After 50 years, most people visiting either wall weren't alive during the war, so the challenge is making Viet Nam real and relevant.

"My father passed away from exposure to agent orange," Julia Sutton, Post Commander of VFW Post 768.

Sutton is an eight-year veteran of the Navy, and noted, the wall is especially meaningful for the grown children of Vietnam veterans, like herself.    

"It is a link and it compels us to handle things in the future," said Sutton," so that people who are currently serving, are helped when they come home so they don't have that disassociation." 

The memorial is located on Cameron Drive at Mitchell Lane, and the nearby Russian River Brewing Company is offering parking for visitors. 

Entry is free, although donations are welcome, to offset the $15,000 cost of bring the wall to Windsor. 
Visitors are asked not to bring food, drink or dogs, and avoid cell phone use, to preserve the respectful atmosphere of the memorial.