Perryville, MO hosts healing wall, open to all

by Jim McCarty   |   [email protected]

In what once was a cornfield north of Perryville, an impressive construction project is slowly taking shape. It’s an exact replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Those who have visited the somber black granite walls in our nation’s capital will recognize the two 246-foot panels, tapering from a height of 8 inches to 10 feet, that are taking shape.

On the granite panels will be the same 58,272 names engraved on the original wall. Every detail of the original will be painstakingly reproduced, down to the same east-west orientation. The only difference is the setting, so different from the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. and so much more accessible to those who want to pay their respects.

“One of the neat things about the wall is that we are in such a rural setting,” says Nancy Guth, executive director of the Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. “We are able to provide for the veterans and their families this quiet atmosphere for them to come and reflect.”

The ambitious memorial, dubbed America’s Vietnam Wall, began with a desire to honor veterans on the part of Perryville resident and Vietnam veteran Jim Eddleman.

“He fought in the Tet Offensive and carried a lot of guys to the medevac helicopters,” says Don Fulford, president of the memorial’s board. “He’s been financially successful in his life and he’s reached the point where he can give back. And he always told himself that if he ever had the opportunity to give back he would. So he started talking about some different things. And then the traveling Wall showed up. It really moved him. It kind of shook him to his core. He knew then and there he wanted to do something special. He brought a group together and that group has been workingon it ever since.”

Along with enough money to kickstart the project, Jim donated 45 acres of his farm for the memorial site. A board was organized to coordinate the project and work began two years ago.

“We decided at one meeting we wanted a full-size, black granite wall just like the one in Washington, D.C., even down to the details of situating it in the same way so that when the sun comes up in D.C., it’s on the same axis as it is here in Perryville,” Don says.

From the start, the group sought the blessing of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the organization that built the original wall. “After meeting with the folks in D.C. a couple of times, we decided to connect the two walls,” Don says. “One way we did that was to have a flag exchange.”

An American flag and an MIA/POW flag from Perryville were lowered, folded and loaded on a motorcycle which traveled to The Wall in Washington, D.C. In a ceremony attended by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, whose district includes Perryville, the flags flying over the memorial were exchanged with the ones from Missouri.

Then the flags were carried back to Perryville where they were welcomed in an incredible way. “The last day, there was 8-1/2 miles of bikers that left Festus, Missouri and escorted the fl ag here,” Don recalls. “And we raised that flag up.”

Every overpass from St. Louis to Perryville was packed with cheering throngs. Firetrucks hoisted large flags into the air. Veterans were on hand to celebrate.

Since that time, the project slowly has moved forward. A welcome center and a future military museum have been built. The concrete substructure for the wall was poured. Before the first section of granite panels arrived, the concrete became a special way for family and friends to honor veterans.

Visitors were encouraged to write tributes to veterans on the walls. Some taped photos to the concrete or wrote lengthy stories in remembrance of their loved ones. Others simply signed a name. These memories will eventually be covered, but will forever remain as a part of the memorial.

This summer, work on the west panel was completed and it was installed. The east side is expected to be completed soon. All of the names were etched in the stone by a business in nearby Farmington.

The next step is a candlelight vigil set for Sept. 21 to honor those who are unaccounted, either as prisoners of war or missing in action. “We’ve asked people to mail in names of those people and we will put that on candles. It is going to be spectacular,” Don says.

Published in Rural Missouri

SEPTEMBER 2018 Volume 71 Number 9

Rural Missouri

P.O. Box 1645

Jefferson City, MO 65102

[email protected]