CHEYENNE -- Cheyenne resident Steve Harrington started writing poetry in 1970 when he was serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. When he was asked to compose a poem for a ceremony to dedicate a miniature Vietnam Memorial Wall on the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he did just that.
The poem, titled "This Vietnam Wall," was written as a broad remembrance for the dozens of veterans, family members and friends who came to the wall's dedication ceremony Wednesday, Vietnam Veterans Day. Three halls were packed with attendees at the primary care wing at the VA campus to hear Harrington and other speakers at the ceremony.
"Stepping on mines, bamboo sticks or shot, many did fall," Harrington read rhythmically from behind a podium. "Some of the names we honor today on this Vietnam Wall."
The wall displays the more than 58,000 names of service members killed during the Vietnam War. Event organizer and VA hospital volunteer Sallee Call was the person who asked Harrington, also a VA volunteer, to write the poem. Call said she was inspired to bring a permanent Vietnam Wall Memorial to the VA after she visited the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall when it made a stop in Cheyenne. She later found out it would be possible to buy a replica wall for permanent display and thought, "Why can't we have one here?"
"And what better place than the VA?" Call said.
Letters were sent to veterans organizations, events were hosted, booths were set up and Vietnam veterans helped Call put on fundraisers, she said. Once the word spread about her cause, Call said individual contributions also started rolling in.
"We had contributions from Missouri to California," she said. "It took a while, but we were very fortunate to get what we got. This is a really giving community, and I appreciate that."
After just more than two years, around $10,000 was raised. And with the help of volunteers, the wall is now installed as a permanent fixture at the VA.
"I hope it's paying respect to their fallen brothers, and letting them know we didn't forget about them," Call said. "I just hope they know it's to show we honor them and appreciate what they did."
Sam House, Cheyenne VA Medical Center public affairs officer, said Call deserves the credit for making the Vietnam Memorial Wall possible.
"She's the backbone," he said. "We just provided the space. ... Sallee really pulled through on this, as well as a lot of the donors."
Cheyenne's former mayor and Vietnam veteran Rick Kaysen spoke during Wednesday's ceremony. Among the thousands of names on the wall are 119 from Wyoming and 13 from Cheyenne. Kaysen said the wall would serve as a meaningful reflection for everyone in the community. In addition to serving as a reminder of those who died or otherwise didn't make it home for people who served or lost loved ones in the war, he said the wall existed for another purpose.
"It also serves as an educational tool for today's students that will be in our schools tomorrow, and for years to come," Kaysen said. "As I look around the hallways at all these wonderful people that have a Vietnam hat on -- maybe they have a vest on -- it's still in their hearts and in part of themselves, and it will never go away.
"But I assure you, I will be proud to jump in the bunker, to jump in the foxhole with you. Because I know you have my back, and I trust that I would have your back as well. Because that's just what this brotherhood is all about. So, again, we must never forget."
Harrington wasn't the only person to express his feelings about the Vietnam War through artistic expression Wednesday. Dalton Fuller, now retired and a service officer of American Legion Post 60 in Pine Bluffs, joined the Navy in 1958. He volunteered with the United Service Organizations and made five tours in Vietnam and all over Asia with the Department of Defense. Fuller chose to sing the song "50,000 Names" as performed by American country music singer George Jones.
Tears flowed openly as Fuller sang, "Little American flags waving in the wind, and there's 50,000 names carved in the wall."
Much as he did for service members during the Vietnam War, Fuller said it was nice to bring some smiles to the people hearing him sing Wednesday.
"I have no idea how many of those names on that wall, that I put the last smile on their face," he said.
As the ceremony ended, Vietnam veteran Mark Majors stood against the wall, eyes closed in solemn reflection.
"I was just thinking of a friend I lost," he said.
But even while Wednesday's ceremony was moving, Majors said the work isn't done for those who served in the Vietnam War -- specifically those still missing in action.
"You know, we still have 1,100 people unaccounted for," he said. "I don't think this country is doing near enough to bring them home." ___
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