STOCKTON — With his granddaughter, Payton Henry, 8, by his side, Vietnam veteran Gary Henry put a piece of paper up against the Vietnam Moving Wall Friday afternoon, and with a pencil traced the name of one of his friends, John Brandborg.
The Moving Wall, which honors more than 3 million Americans who served in the Vietnam War, has been touring the country for more than 30 years. It bears the names of more than 58,000 men and women who died during the war.
A half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the wall is on display at the Weber Point Events Center, located at 221 N. Center St. in Stockton, until 2 p.m. Monday.
While in Stockton, the replica wall is open to the public at no charge. Visitors can obtain materials to make a name rubbing as a memento of their loved one or a friend of the family.
Specialist Brandborg, who served in the Army’s 4th infantry, was killed on March 22, 1969, in Pleiku, Vietnam.
That day Henry also lost a second friend, Clyde Sweat.
“I was there when they were killed,” he said. “They were my brothers, the best friends I had in my life,” Henry said.
Flora Brooks, of Valley Springs, visited the wall to see the name of her husband, Johnny O Brooks. She found him on section 16W. Her husband’s name was a later addition to the wall.
“He was wounded in Vietnam,” she said. “He didn’t pass away in Vietnam, but he died of his wounds.”
Brooks, who with the Army’s 1st Infantry, was injured in Vietnam in November of 1969, and was left a double amputee. He also suffered brain damage, said his wife, who spent her life caring for her husband, who passed away in February of 2011. His name was added to the wall in 2012.
“I am thankful people remember him, to have his name here. There are so many like Johnny out there, still alive, and it’s important to honor them,” she said.
Brooks said she volunteers for Quilts of Honor, an organization that makes quilts and gives them to members of the military and veterans, to thank them for their service. On Friday afternoon, the group had already handed out 10 quilts to veterans visiting the wall, she said.
The Moving Wall was the idea of John Devitt after he attended the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. He wanted to bring it to those who did not have the opportunity to visit the monument in the nation’s capital.
The wall was built by Vietnam veteran volunteers Norris Shears and Gerry Haver. Upon its completion, it went on display for the first time in Tyler, Texas in October of 1984.
“A lot of people that served in Vietnam get emotional when they see the wall. When I look at all the names of people, I never knew them but I feel like I am meeting them for the first time, seeing their name and remembering their sacrifice,” said Stockton native Ray Bael, who was a master gunnery sergeant in the Marines.
Bael served with reconnaissance patrol units during the Vietnam War, and many men from his unit were killed. He remembers the bond he formed with his fellow soldiers.
“It’s a stronger bond than a sister or a brother. You had your life in someone else’s hands,” Bael said.
Bael, who has served as a volunteer for the Moving Wall, has seen countless veterans come to the wall in Stockton and has witnessed the raw emotion that comes out as officers find the names of the friends.
He was honored to know the wall was coming to Stockton, allowing people that can’t make it across the country to pay tribute to the ones they lost.
“I went to Washington D.C. and I was able to etch the names of people I knew,” Bael said.
The catharsis Bael felt seeing the names of his friends on the wall was surreal. The feeling of loss and the tragedy of war converged as he saw their names. He felt a sense of privilege as he paid a tribute to his friends.
The Moving Wall is staffed by veterans and civilian volunteers, who assist individuals and families in locating names. The wall is available to visitors 24 hours a day, and is cloaked in a sheen of golden light during the night hours.
A ceremony to honor Vietnam veterans will be held today 10 a.m.
News-Sentinel chief photographer Bea Ahbeck contributed to this report.