It’s been called the wall that heals.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, located in Washington, D.C., attracts nearly 3 million visitors a year to honor the more than 58,000 Americans who died while serving their country during that conflict.
For those who are unable to visit the actual wall, traveling versions can be seen across the country. As part of 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War, Sedona will play host to this year’s Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans set for March 30 through April 2 on the soccer field at Posse Grounds Park.
For Eduard Uzumeckis, and the rest of the committee that’s helped bring this event to Sedona, it’s been a labor of love.
“I feel relieved but still a little worried that there might be something we forgot,” he said. “After all the effort put in by the members of the committee to raise the funds and plan such an amazing event, as well as the support both financial and in-kind that we have received from the community, it is important that this event truly expresses the community’s honor and respect for Vietnam veterans that we hoped for.
“I believe that the events that will unfold over the next four days will be an honest representation of both committee’s and the community’s intent to deeply honor the 58,000 men and women who paid the greatest sacrifice in service to their country and those who returned only to face a less than
Events set for this week include:
- Wednesday, March 30: Vietnam Wall arrives at Posse Grounds Park by motorcycle escort by 4 p.m. A reception for riders and volunteers will follow.
- Thursday, March 31: Opening ceremonies, 1 p.m., Posse Grounds Park.
- Friday, April 1: Luncheon for Vietnam-era veterans only, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Elks Club.
- Saturday, April 2: Ride to Remember to depart from Camp Verde to Sedona at 11:30 a.m. Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day celebration 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Posse Grounds Park.
During the luncheon, the guest speaker will be retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Kirk who served both in Korea and Vietnam during his 28 years of active duty. On Oct. 28, 1967, Kirk’s F-105 was shot down over Hanoi, North Vietnam. He was immediately captured and spent the next five years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp.
Upon his release in 1973, Kirk, who now lives in Anthem, was awarded the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, nine air medals and the Purple Heart.
Uzumeckis, a Vietnam veteran, said even though he has been involved with the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day since its inception in 2012, this year’s undertaking was a little more than he had expected.
“I understood how much was involved just with that celebration,” he said. “However, after the committee decided to try and bring the traveling Wall to Sedona, the challenges surrounding that endeavor multiplied several magnitudes.”
He said the task of raising the $9,000 to bring it here was only the beginning, adding that the logistics surrounding the memorial’s presence are even greater than raising the money.
“We have to provide for around-the-clock security, volunteers to help with parking and assistance for those individuals who need to locate a loved one’s name on the Wall,” he said. “In addition there are the honor guards, singers, buglers and many others who are part of the ceremonies that will take place on different days.”
What made this an even greater challenge, he said, was the addition of the luncheon. Originally this event was not part of their initial planning. They were approached a few weeks ago by both the Arizona Department of Veterans Services and the Vietnam Veterans of America with the request to hold the luncheon as part of the week of activities. During the luncheon approximately 200 Vietnam era veterans will be recognized for their service.
“Even though the challenges associated with these activities seem enormous, if it weren’t for the commitment of the veterans, the community organizations, citizens and the city of Sedona who came together to make this possible, the task would have been considerably harder than it turned out to be,” Uzumeckis said.
As to the importance of the Wall and what it means to him and his fellow Vietnam veterans, Uzumeckis said it takes him back to late 1967. That day, he stood with his head bowed in silent prayer while standing in front of the casket of his friend and classmate, Will Machacek, who had been killed in the war.
“Little did I realize that soon I too would join many other young men in a war where those who sacrificed for so many were treated with great disdain,” he said. “The Wall reminds me of that day in 1967 and all the days that I spent in South Vietnam. It reminds me of the sacrifice by so many young men who died so I could live and experience what they could not.
“The Wall reminds me of the obligation I have to the more than 58,000 souls whose names are listed on it to make sure that I make my life matter and I make a positive difference in our society in their memory.”
He then added, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day is the purest expression of the obligation I feel. It is an opportunity to remind our country of the ultimate sacrifice made by so many young men and women during the Vietnam War. It is an opportunity for our community to come forth to thank and honor those who returned but never received the welcome home they deserved.”