Veterans Finding A Way To Heal At Traveling Wall

Oct 9, 2017

Many Vietnam veterans have only seen their service recognized in recent years. But a traveling version of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in State College gave them a chance to share their stories and heal. 

The names of more than 58,000 soldiers who died in the Vietnam War are listed and honored on the Traveling Wall.

Rex Johnson is an active duty national guard member from Milesburg. He rode among the Motorcycle Honor Escort last Wednesday, delivering the Traveling Wall from Bellefonte to Innovation Park.

“Whenever the vets come home from Vietnam, they didn’t get a whole lot of support," Johnson said. "So we’re trying to show our support now, the best we can.”

Johnson said being a part of the Honor Escort was not only about showing respect for Vietnam Veterans, but also about supporting future veterans and those in duty now.

“I think it’s a great thing to be able to bring all the support, bring the attention to those of us that wear the uniform. [It] kind of helps show why we do what we do. I’d like to see it be a regular thing.”

The Traveling Wall is an 80 percent replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. The wall slopes from each side up to its tallest point of about 8 feet at the center.

The wall is made of a black aluminum instead of the granite of the original.

Tom Rothrock visited the wall to look for a name.

“Michael Segich. He was a friend, growing up in school. And I’m not sure what year he died, it was either ’71 or ’70," he said. "And I’m trying to see if I can find him on the wall.”

He did find him. Segich was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps. His name is honored on panel 10W and line 29. He passed away in May 1970. He was 18.

“It was just a tough time growing up. My brother and cousins were all fighting, and I wasn’t in there,” he said.

Rothrock stopped speaking after that. His eyes filled with tears and he asked to go on with the rest of his visit on his own.

Pennsylvania sent the fourth largest number of military to fight in Vietnam. The war impacted many Pennsylvanians, directly or indirectly.

Pat Rothdeutsch is from Philipsburg. A Vietnam veteran, he said there’s a long list of names he knew on the wall.

When asked him if he’s found peace of mind, five decades later: “Do you ever?" he said.

"No. it’s just like anything else. You leave things behind but they don’t leave you," he said. But he looked forward to one consolation. "I hope somebody learns from it, so it doesn’t happen again.”

Gerald Rudy served in the Navy for 38 months aboard the U.S.S Forrestal.

“The Forrestal had a tragic fire on July 29, 1967 and there’re 134 names of people who lost their lives in the fire right here on this panel,” Rudy said.

Rudy was volunteering as a wall guard. He said he wanted to tell his wartime stories.

“It’s important that these people not be forgotten. These were just 19-, 20-year-old kids. They did a hell of a job – every one of them," he said. "They didn’t shirk from their duty, they went and they did it. Two generations from now, I wanna see these people still remembered.”

The theme for the Traveling Wall in Centre County was “Welcome Home.” It’s a theme that touches many veterans, as they recalled the harsh treatment they received coming home from Vietnam.

“For 20, almost 25, years, I wouldn’t tell people that I was in the service, because they consider Vietnam veterans to be unhinged, and it just opened up too many bad memories,” Rudy said.

Rudy said it is nice to see veterans being recognized again in recent years, although he had mixed feelings.

“In some ways, it’s too little, too late. In other ways, thank you. You know?” He said, laughing.

Amber Morris and her two sons are from Loganton. They had a piece of paper and some pencils with them as they looked for a name.

“So this is Larry – Larry K. Barner – right there.," She said. "Okay, so we’re going to do a rubbing boys, do you know how to do this?”

Morris placed the paper on the wall and gently rubbed it with a pencil. She said she didn’t know Larry Barner, but she’s doing it for his family.

“I was born in 1971 so I never met him. But he’s just somebody from our town that I’ve always heard them talk about – the only person on the wall from our town,” Morris said.

Even though the wall lists only the fallen ones, she said, it is a tribute to all veterans.