For nearly a decade after his Army service during the Vietnam War, Johnny Payne wasn’t able to talk about his experiences overseas.
“(The war) affected entire families,” Payne said. “For eight to 10 years, I wasn’t able to discuss it. ... I had seen lives taken away, and unfortunately, I took some lives. People really didn’t understand (the war).”
These days, Payne not only regularly talks about the war to classrooms full of schoolchildren, but he also has been instrumental in an effort to bring the Vietnam Moving Wall to the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin from Aug. 14-17.
For the past 30 years, the wall has traveled across the country. It’s a half-size replica of the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which contains the names of more than 58,000 soldiers of that war who were killed or went missing in action.
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John Devitt, a Vietnam veteran, built the moving wall with other veterans in 1984 as a way to bring the wall experience to people in other parts of the country who may not be able to travel to the memorial in Washington.
Payne served as the emcee for the opening and closing ceremonies the last time the Moving Wall was in the midstate, in Warner Robins. At that time, Payne decided that given Dublin’s large veteran population and being home to a veterans hospital, it would be good to bring it to that part of the state.
“With the VA hospital and the number of veterans coming through, I thought it’d be something good for Dublin,” said Payne, who noted there are 21 names on the wall from Laurens County. “I got our name on the waiting list.”
It took two and a half years, but Dublin’s turn has finally arrived. The event is being sponsored by the Laurens County Historical Society, and Payne said there’s a long list of businesses and private residents who have stepped forward to cover the $15,000 it costs to get the Moving Wall to Dublin.
Payne has visited the memorial in Washington twice. Both times he’s been overcome by emotions, especially when he sees the names of fallen comrades, he said. It’s because of them that Payne talks about the war, noting that within the next couple of decades, there will be few survivors who can tell the story.
“It helps (talking to students) to have someone who has experienced it,” he said. “(The fallen soldiers) need someone to tell their story.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.