The sprawling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is slated to open with fanfare at noon July 4 and will be open round the clock until 3 p.m., July 7.
Sponsored by Rolling Thunder Chapter No. 1, based in Elma, the main feature of the tribute is an 80 percent-scale replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. The wall is 380 feet long and peaks at 8 feet high in the middle. The Wall contains the names of 58,523 who died or are missing. The entire event is free.
“We kind of lucked out with the timing of the July 4th holiday,” said Bill Parrish, local chapter president of Rolling Thunder. “It all just kind of fell into place. …
“It can be a life-changing experience,” he added. “If you have somebody in your familythat served or paid the price, it’s a good thing to go check out and see what Americans have given up for what we have today.”
Incorporated in 1995, Rolling Thunder Inc. is a non-profit organization with more than 90 chartered chapters — the Elma chapter is the state’s first and only — throughout the United States and members abroad. While many members of Rolling Thunder are veterans and many ride motorcycles, neither is a prerequisite. Rolling Thunder members are old and young, men and women, veterans and non-veterans. All are united in the cause to bring full accountability for prisoners of war and soldiers who are missing in action from all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public with the phrase “We Will Not Forget.”
Other displays included in the traveling tribute include:
• An exhibit depicting statistics of every war/conflict involving the United States.
• A timeline with photos of World War II.
• A Korean War tribute with timelines and photos.
• Vietnam War facts, figures and timeline.
• Displays honoring those who fell in military hostile action from the end of Vietnam to the 9/11 attacks.
• A 9/11 tribute with the names of all 2,984 casualties, organized by where they were located at their time of death.
• A Gold Dog Tag Tribute to all those members of the armed forces who have given their lives in the global war on terror. Each tag has the full name, rank, branch of service, date of casualty and location of casualty.
• Computers that contain the databases for locating the names on the wall and also a database to locate the names on the Gold Dog Tag display will be available to the public. Two hard copy books are also provided for locating the names on the wall.
Parrish says this isn’t the first time the replica wall has visited the area. The last time was four or five years ago when it came out to the Ocean Shores area.
“I didn’t have a chance to see it then, but I have seen it in Moses Lake in 2007 and in Southern Oregon three years ago,” he said.
He says he’s also been to the real wall eight times.
“The real wall is amazing but the emotions you get by standing next to the mobile ones is still significant,” Parrish said. “It’s still a good experience I think to go to the mobile one because a lot of people can’t get to the one in Washington, D.C. …
“You know, the wall looks like its made of stone, but it’s really not,” Parrish said. “It takes a crew of 15 to 20 people at least four hours to put together, but its hard to tell the difference and it’s still just a moving experience.”
Parrish is a Vietnam veteran, who served three tours in the U.S. Navy.
“I was fortunate I wasn’t on the ground because a lot of my friends were,” Parrish said.
He said he felt compelled to see the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., to see the names of loved ones.
“That’s what started it all,” he said. “I bought a motorcycle and drove to Washington, D.C., and I found out what Rolling Thunder was when I got there and wanted to be part of my own chapter here in Elma.”
The effort to bring the wall to Elma has taken more than a year of work and many, many volunteers.
“The community has just been so supportive of this, they really have,” Parrish said.
FIELD OF HONOR
In addition to the tribute, the Rolling Thunder organization has also created a “field of honor” with dozens of flags planted outside of Elma. The flags will be located on the east side of Harbor Paciﬁc (the Pepsi distributor) at 50 Schouweiler Tracts Road W., Elma.
“Visitors and volunteers from the surrounding communities will experience an amazing display of patriotism including hundreds of large U.S. flags atop 8-foot poles in perfect rows and columns on a field of green,” the group says on its website. “This living display of heroism will fly as a temporary patriotic tribute, honoring those that served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War, as well as all those that are serving our country on active duty and veterans who serve our nation to preserve our security and freedom.”
As part of a fundraiser for the organization, flags are being sold for $30 to be dedicated to a specific veteran. Call organizer Barb Green at (360) 482-3365 or visit the website www.healingﬁeld.org/Elma13. A booth with more information about the flags will also be on site at the fairgrounds.
At dusk on July 6, there will be a candlelight vigil at the field of honor.
LOTS OF CEREMONIES
On July 3, dozens of military personnel, first responders and veterans were expected to escort the replica wall and the American Veterans Traveling Tribute to the fairgrounds.
Rolling Thunder and many more motorcycle groups will stage a ride to the replica wall on Saturday, July 6. The staging lineup is at 9:30 a.m. at the McCleary VFW and Beerbower Park in McCleary. By 10:30 a.m., the motorcycles are expected to roll out with the first batch of motorcycles arriving just before 11 a.m. at the fairgrounds and the last bikes expected to arrive at about 11:40 a.m.
The motorcycle groups will head south on 3rd Street to Highway 8 for 1.1 miles, turn left on to the westbound onramp to Highway 8. Head west on Highway 8/Highway 12 for 10.6 miles, turn down Schouweiler Road, turn right on Monte-Elma Road for one mile and enter the Elma city limits by going 10 mph to parade in the rest of the way through town to the fairgrounds. Cars traveling in the area should be wary of obvious traffic congestion during this time. For more information, contact Rob Horton (360) 470-0735 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Be one to say, ‘I touched the wall and the wall touched me,” a poster for the ride states.
From July 4 to July 7, there will be several presentations and speakers with all events conducted around the wall.
At noon on July 4 will be the opening ceremonies. This event will include former prisoners of war to speak reading names of those killed in action, as well as a 21-gun salute.
At noon on July 5, there will be a speaker from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Gold Star Mothers — a veterans organization — will lay wreaths and there will be a performance by a military band.
At 5 p.m. on July 5, there will also be an emergency responders tribute to active and fallen members of the fire, police and emergency medical services. Elma Councilman Jim Taylor says the tribute will include the “last call” for fallen police officers and the “last bell” for fallen firefighters.
“While our veterans have served honorably, police, fire and EMS are also in the line of fire,” Taylor said. “That’s why they decided to set aside some time to pay respect to them.”
The ladder truck of Fire District No. 5 and the ladder truck of the Montesano Fire Department will cross their ladders with giant flags draped from them, according to Taylor.
Master of Ceremonies is retired Montesano Fire Chief Ken Walkington, who currently sits on the Montesano City Council. The color guard will be by the Olympia Fire Department and the Olympia Sea Cadets. Former Montesano resident Melissa Hornback — married now as Melissa Dier — will sing the national anthem and other songs. Kevin Taylor will perform “Amazing Grace” on the pipes and TAPS will be sounded by Elma High School band member Cody Stone.
At 1 p.m., on July 6, dignitaries in the POW/MIA community will speak, along with another rendition of the national anthem. Other unspecified dignitaries will also speak.
From 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., July 4 through July 6, breakfast will be served inside the pavilion at the fairgrounds. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily throughout the event, there will be computerized name locator services, food and vendors. At dawn on July 4 through July 7, there will be an official posting of the colors with reveille. At dusk, from July 4 through July 6, the day will end with TAPS played.
There will be a live band and music from 8 p.m. to midnight, July 5 and July 6.
However, Parrish, with Rolling Thunder, says that the wall will stay open. That means anyone wanting to visit at 2 a.m. can do so.
“There are some people who may want to visit when there isn’t much of a crowd,” he said. “We recognize that and we want to honor and respect those people.”