BLOOMINGTON — The replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that will be in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery through Sunday became a meeting place for friends and generations as it opened to the public Thursday afternoon.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute Memorial Wall, an 80-percent-scale representation of the memorial in Washington, D.C., opened to the public at noon Thursday after arriving by truck Wednesday night.

Pointing to the shirt she was wearing, volunteer Beverly Baley said, “It's like our shirt says: 'Honor. Respect. Remember.'”

Baley has a special reason for volunteering. The name of her brother, David Scott of Carlock, is on the wall. His is one of 98 names of area veterans listed on the wall. His body was never recovered.

Others had special reasons, too.

Dick Briggs of Bloomington, who served as a Marine in Vietnam from July 1966 to August 1967, was looking for the names of seven friends — two from boot camp and five from his unit.

Fred Plummer of Normal, who served with the Army Signal Corps, wore a shirt that said, “Vietnam Class of 1968.” He spent that whole year there and noted, “It was a leap year, too, so I got to stay an extra day — 366.”

He met Briggs when they both worked at State Farm. They helped each other find what they were looking for.

“I am looking for two guys that we lost out of our compound. It was Aug. 12, 1968,” said Briggs.

About 200 people attended a 40-minute Welcome the Wall ceremony Thursday evening at which speakers thanked veterans — both those who served in Vietnam and others — for their service.

The master of ceremonies, Doug Bowers, said those whose names are on the wall sacrificed their lives “so we can live in freedom and without fear,” adding that “our nation stands as a shining beacon to liberty.”

After members of Carl S. Martin American Legion Post 635 of Normal placed nine wreaths, their shadows passed across the names engraved on the wall as they marched away, as if to create a symbolic connection.

Earlier in the day, a bus from Bickford House of Bloomington, an independent and assisted living center, brought several residents, including veterans from other eras.

As they passed a group of fourth-graders from Bloomington District 87's Bent Elementary School, the students smiled and high-fived the veterans, including one from World War II.

Fourth-grade teacher Susan Dobson said they read a book, “The Wall,” to prepare her students for the visit. It is the story of a man who takes his young son to see the wall and find the name of the young boy's grandfather.

Briggs said seeing the wall helps people understand the sacrifices that were made in the war.

The wall contains the names of more than 58,000 men and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. Even at an 80 percent scale, the traveling wall is 370 feet long and 8 feet tall at its highest point.

“This gives you a real visual impact of what happened,” said Briggs.

A reminder that the war claimed lives even after it ended is in a nearby tent where the "Agent Orange Quilt of Tears" serves as a memorial tribute to those living and dead affected by exposure to the defoliant used to strip vegetation during the war.

Among those honored on one of the 37 quilt panels on display is James Logsdon Sr., whose grave is next to the tent.

Shelia Snyder of Florida, whose husband, Henry Snyder, is a Vietnam veteran, got involved with the quilt project while making a quilt block to honor some of her husband's friends who died because of exposure to Agent Orange.

“We send people off to war and don't think of the true costs,” she said. “We owe them care. A lot of education needs to be done.”

In addition to the names on the wall, there are two phrases, one at the start of the names, the other at the end. They say, simply, “The price of freedom is written on the wall” and “Freedom is not free; you will never be forgotten.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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