DUBLIN -- During the Vietnam War, a large sign filled with the names of local men stood downtown.
Every time someone from Laurens County left to fight in the war, his name was added to the wall. If he died, the name was put on top of the list in gold letters. When the war ended, 21 names had made it to the top.
Thursday, those 21 names were on a wall again in Dublin. This time the names were among the names of about 58,000 others from across the country who were killed in Vietnam.
Hundreds of people arrived in Dublin for the opening day of the Vietnam Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the war memorial in Washington, D.C. The replica wall, set up in front of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center, will be open around the clock through Sunday.
During Thursday’s opening ceremony, the names of the Laurens County residents killed in the war were read aloud. Later, the first of a long series of speakers began an around-the-clock process of reading all 58,245 names on the wall.
Among those getting a look at the wall Thursday was Marlyn Thompson of Vidalia, who served in the Army during the early years of Vietnam and trained soldiers who were sent there. But he never went himself. He said he knew people whose names were on the wall, and he also knew the number of people killed in the war.
Still, that number is hard to fathom until seeing the wall, Thompson said.
“I knew there was that many people, but I didn’t know the wall would be this long,” he said. “It makes you humble and appreciative that we still have America.”
Local historian Scott Thompson, who helped organize the effort to get the wall to Dublin, said the local sign that was kept up during the war said a lot about the community. In some parts of the country during that time, Vietnam soldiers were ridiculed and spat on when they returned home.
“It shows what a big supporter of the military we have always been,” Thompson said.
The person who spearheaded the move to bring the wall to Dublin was Vietnam veteran Johnny Payne, who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his actions in combat.
“I think if you do come and touch (the wall), it will touch you as well,” he said. “It has helped me to heal and has helped thousands of my brothers heal as well.”
Kimberly Simmons of Haddock took her son, as well as the names of three men from Baldwin County killed in the war. She is a member of the Warren Hawkins American Legion Auxiliary in Milledgeville.
“This is an awesome experience to be here,” she said. “I’ve never been to Washington to see the actual wall, so this was a great opportunity for me and my son to experience this.”
Getting the wall to Dublin has been a two-year effort. Mayor Phil Best said thousands of volunteers are involved.
Volunteers will be on hand around the clock to help find any specific name on the wall.
Phyllis Parrish of Dublin helped lay the wreath during Thursday’s ceremony. Her husband, John Hershel South, was killed in Vietnam. Although she has been remarried for 42 years, she said she still feels the pain of his loss. She had never seen the wall in Washington, and finding his name on the replica wall touched her.
“I just thought of what a fine man and what a great Christian he was,” she said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.