The American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Traveling Wall found its way to Youngstown State University from Thursday through Sunday at the M-22 parking lot on Wood Street.
Thanks to the efforts of the YSU Office of Veterans Affairs — along with support from the Mahoning County Veterans Services Commission and The Home Depot in Boardman — veterans, students and community members were able to visit the 360-foot long replica of the Washington D.C. Vietnam Memorial Wall.
Rick Williams, YSU Veterans Affairs Coordinator and a retired U.S. Army Major, said the wall’s visit to campus lands on the 50-year anniversary of the official start to the war.
“You have to book this thing two or three years out. It is very popular, and it travels the country. I wasn’t even the one who booked it, my predecessor, Mr. [Jim] Olive, booked it three years ago and picked this date because it was the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War,” Williams said.
Several ceremonies ran concurrently to engage visitors and encourage more interested parties to visit, including an opening and closing ceremony and a candlelight vigil.
“Even with the weather being as bad as it has been, we have had a nice turnout,” he said. “Different people handle it differently. We’ve seen people fall to their knees crying when they’re look at the wall.”
Among the over 58,000 names etched into the memorial, four of them belong to YSU students.
At the closing ceremony, several eminent community veterans spoke to the attendees. Olive thanked the audience for their involvement in remembering this salient conflict.
“Thank you all for the time you have taken to reflect upon this seminal event of a historical era and generation. Thank you for your presence and your participation,” Olive said. “Whether you agreed with the war or did not, or whether or not you even understood it, one thing was very evident to us all: At a very young age, these man faced their very own mortality. … This was a war that cast more doubts than enlightenment upon our nation and more shadows than light into the lives of the families of those killed. We must ensure that our nation sees not just their names upon a wall but sees the lives lost. This is why we have gathered these four days: to provide that light that will drive the shadows back.”
Judge Joseph Vukovich, who serves on the Ohio 7th District Court of Appeals, former state senator and YSU alumnus, told the audience of his time served during Vietnam.
“All of us who came back, we were all proud that we served, regardless of the reception we got at home. I know that we were all grateful that we survived, and each of us, I think, had some sense of guilt for surviving,” he said. “If you look at the names on the wall, one in particular has meaning for me: Harry Yingling. I didn’t know Harry very well, but I and other troops carried him for about two hours out of the jungle; he was shot. Ironically, he wasn’t asked to walk point initially — somebody else was. Harry went up to him and said, ‘You know, you are going home in about 20 days, let me walk point.’ He was shot and killed by a trail watcher.”
Lawyer Carl Nunziato, a YSU alumnus, community philanthropist and a main fundraiser for the new Veterans Resource Center being constructed on Wick Avenue, said that the community has always had a legacy of veteran support and he hopes to continue and expand that legacy going forward.
“I want to close with some thoughts going forward with what we are doing here at YSU. If you go back to the early ’40s at YSU, it was Youngstown College. Then, there were about 2,200 students. At the end of World War II, when all the G.I.s came home, the student body swelled,” he said. “This has been a legacy, the university and the city of Youngstown has welcomed the veterans back. And it is in that vein that we are continuing to do those things that are necessary to treat our veterans, to treat our returning soldiers.”