Families of three soldiers from Wake Forest killed in Vietnam closed a sad chapter Thursday.
Their sons were honored during a ceremony that opened a four-day stop for The Wall That Heals, a traveling three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Several hundred people gathered at E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest, including the families of Charles Wayne Hicks, Benny Charles Jackson and Ronnie Marshall Duncan. Vietnam veterans placed wreaths in their honor.
Throughout the day, visitors came to pay their respects and maybe find a name on the black granite wall — a deed that will be repeated many times through Sunday when the wall’s visit concludes.
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Ronald Wayne Hicks, who shares the same middle name as the uncle he never met, said he was moved by the ceremony and the starkness of the wall. The Raleigh firefighter from Fuquay-Varina, who is also a Purple Heart recipient from the first Gulf War, said he wished his parents were still alive to see the wall in Wake Forest.
“It was real emotional,” he said. “Coming here, I didn’t think I would be that emotional, but when they started talking about everything, you start realizing why you’re here. And they never received anything but a ride home.”
Other visitors had their own connections to the wall.
James Scott was 20 years old when he enlisted in the Marines in 1964. He figured it was better to choose his branch of service than leave it to chance with the draft. It was during his induction that he met Kenneth Jordan. They went through basic training together, but their paths diverged when Jordan volunteered for an early deployment.
Scott, who settled in Wake Forest 14 years ago after retiring from a 33-year career as a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike, said he never saw Jordan again. But he remembered him.
Thursday when Scott found his friend’s name on the wall, it was above his reach. One of the local volunteers climbed a stepladder and made a pencil rubbing of the name for Scott as he watched intently.
When Scott received his treasure, he stared at the graphite impression for a moment before returning his gaze to the wall. There were others that he wished to find from his unit but Jordan was the most important, he said.
“We didn’t know each other long, but what we went through together in basic training made us like family,” he said.
Scott spent about two months in Vietnam. That was plenty of time to see combat defending the air base at Da Nang, he said. His tour was cut short when his father’s health declined because of cancer. Scott said his father died four days after he got to his bedside. He learned of Jordan’s death about four months later, he said.
Alison Quinton from Youngsville visited the wall with her children. A friend asked her to rub a name, which she did.
“It was way more powerful than I thought it would be,” she said. “I didn’t expect the number of names to have this effect on me.”
Her daughter Hannah said she couldn’t believe how many people died.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1982 with the names of 57,939 U.S. service members who had died or were missing. Additions have since brought the total past 58,200, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Three years ago Mandy Duguid made it her mission to get the wall to come to Wake Forest.
She saw the wall in Henderson during its 2015 visit. She’s active with the Wake Forest Purple Heart Foundation and thought it would be worthwhile to get the wall back to North Carolina.
She filled out the online application and waited for an answer, the hardest part, she said. She got it last December and said it was one the best Christmas presents she’d ever received.
“Wake Forest has such a supportive community for its veterans,” she said.
Wake Forest is one of 38 stops for the wall this year. More than 100 groups applied last year, said Julianna Blaylock, one of the two staff members who travel with the wall. The wall was in Fort Ashby, West Virginia last week and will be off to Paducah, Kentucky next week. The route is planned from year to year taking into account seasons and dates requested, she said.
The park, with its wide open vista, provided the perfect setting for the wall, she said.
Volunteers had planted American flags along the park’s driveways. They welcomed veterans. They shuttled them on golf carts from outlying parking lots to the wall’s entrance.
Blaylock said they rely on local volunteers to make each stop memorable for visitors.
“We have to have the local volunteers,” she said. “And this group went above and beyond anything we needed.”
The Wall That Heals
▪ Through Sunday
▪ Open 24 hours a day
▪ Closes Sunday at 2 p.m.
▪ E. Carroll Joyner Park, 701 Harris Road