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Vietnam wall readies for viewing

By Staff
MOVING WALL ARRIVES A convoy of vehicles, most of them driven by military veterans and escorted by Mississippi Highway Patrol officers, leads the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall along Highway 19 to Meridian on Thursday. The replica of the Vietnam memorial in Washington will be on display at Bonita Lakes Mall through Aug. 15. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Aug. 8, 2003
Escorted by Mississippi Highway Patrol officers on motorcycles, the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall rolled into town at about 1 p.m. Thursday.
The half-sized replica of the Vietnam memorial in Washington will be on display and open to the public in the parking lot of Bonita Lakes Mall beginning today and ending Aug. 15.
Percy Howland, chairman of the wall committee with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 79, the local sponsor of the wall, said the memorial should be ready for viewing by this evening.
The memorial displays the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women killed or missing in action in Vietnam from 1959-1975. People will be able to visit it 24 hours a day during its stay in Meridian.
Other attractions will be set up near the wall, including military vehicles and a large "fighting Seabee" mascot of the U.S. Navy brought from the Navy Seabee base in Gulfport.
A former Seabee, Richard Brown, 53, of Meridian, rode to town with the motorcade that escorted the memorial's wall panels all of which were packed in black cases on a truck.
Brown joined the convoy in the Lauderdale community and rode in one of the many vehicles that accompanied the wall on its trip to the mall.
Brown has never seen the actual Vietnam wall or a replica. Even though he was drafted for military service during the height of the Vietnam war in 1968, he was classified unfit for service because of illness.
He later joined the Navy in 1977.
Brown and the driver of the Seabee truck, Equipment Operator 2nd Class Kevin Samples of Gulfport, are both veterans of Operation Desert Storm.
Brown retired from the military in 1994. Samples joined the Navy in 1988 and is still on active duty.
Samples said he saw a replica of the wall in Pensacola, Fla. Even though he was too young to have served in Vietnam, he said the wall is no less moving to him.
Henry Yandle of Hickory rode his Harley Davidson Sportster with the wall convoy from near Tupelo down to Meridian. He said he managed to get off work at the Silver Star Casino in Choctaw to make the journey.
Yandle said he is a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1975-1981. He has visited the Vietnam memorial in Washington and wants to see the replica in Meridian.
He added that he wants people who see the wall to leave with a renewed appreciation of freedom.
An opening ceremony for the wall's local display is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.