A traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall will visit Costa Mesa this week, offering Orange County residents a chance to pay their respects to those who served and lost their lives in the conflict.
At 375 feet long and up to 7 ½ feet tall, the Wall That Heals is a three-quarter-scale replica of the original wall in Washington, D.C. Both versions are engraved with the names of the more than 58,000 service members who died during the Vietnam War.
The Wall That Heals will be stationed in Costa Mesa’s Balearic Park and will be open for viewing any time of day or night Thursday through April 14. More than 300 service members who died during the war hailed from Orange County, according to the National Archives.
Also, more than 300,000 Vietnamese Americans and nationals live in Orange County, the largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam. Many were refugees from the war.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund devised the roving wall exhibit as a way for people to experience the memorial without having to go to the nation’s capital. Since it debuted in 1996, the traveling exhibit has visited almost 600 communities around the country.
Memorial Fund President and Chief Executive Jim Knotts said in a statement that the organization hopes the Wall That Heals “provides an opportunity for healing and an educational experience for the whole community on the impact of the Vietnam War on America.”
Scott Williams of Costa Mesa, president of the Freedom Committee of Orange County, one of the local sponsors of the wall, said it’s been years since the exhibit last visited the county.
With Vietnam veterans continuing to age, Williams said it’s increasingly important to recognize those who served and, especially, those who paid the ultimate price.
“When I think about the veterans, the 58,000-plus that gave their lives, there’s a tendency as life goes on that we ignore those sacrifices,” he said. “And I thought it was time that somebody in Orange County stepped up.”
The memorial carries personal significance for Williams as well. He’s an Army veteran who was deployed to Vietnam from October 1968 to August 1969.
Along with the wall, the upcoming exhibit will include a mobile education center offering additional information about the war and the memorial.
An honor ceremony featuring Air Force Maj. Gen. William Mall as keynote speaker will begin at 10 a.m. April 13. The closing ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 14 and will include remarks from Marine Sgt. Frank Orzio, a Purple Heart recipient.