Replica of Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial at Mendota Heights May 26 through May 29
Traveling display allows healing for families, is staffed by volunteers
By Joseph Back
Local and …
Local and area residents will soon have an opportunity to visit a replica of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial this coming week, a 3/4 scale replica of the famed Washington D.C. monument coming to Minnesota this weekend. On display from May 26 through May 29 at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, the replica wall is staffed by volunteers, with tours to give insight into Vietnam and the Wall and the 58,281 service member names on it.
Designed in its Washington D.C. form by 21-year-old Yale University architecture student Maya Lin in 1982, a 3/4 replica of the Wall was unveiled on Veteran’s Day 1996. Supported by sponsors and donations along with the work of volunteers, the replica wall has since been displayed in almost 700 communities nationwide and helps bring healing to those the Vietnam War touched.
With regard to individual names, the website for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Fund (VVMF) can help find where each fallen service member is listed on the many different panels, often along with a photo of the person and brief biography. A name rubbing can also be requested at vvmf.org, with the Mobile Tour app allowing on site visitors to be their own tour guide, as well as have a guided tour.
As to the on-site aspect of the replica wall, Cottage Grove resident Herb Reckinger is among the volunteers that help keep the wall going, also doing research into service member photos. Giving a series of presentations Thursday and Friday at St. Thomas Academy this past week prior to the wall’s arrival, Reckinger shared more about how he became involved with the traveling version of the memorial wall.
“First I am a volunteer picture gatherer,” he said of his work with VVMF. “Next, I am a cadre to the site managers.”
While most of the site managers come from the Washington DC area, the cadres or assistants can come from all over the country, Reckinger said. Happening to live just 15 miles from St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Reckinger started his work with the Wall in March of 2014. It was then that he took a trip not to the Washington DC memorial or its replica, but instead the St. Paul Park City Hall, as he shares on the VVMF Wordpress site.
“It was in March of 2014, when I went to the St. Paul Park City Hall,” he writes. Then with a background in family research, Reckinger left City Hall with an envelope the city administrator had given him as “not knowing what to do with it.” Once home and having opened the envelope, Reckinger discovered a request from a St. Cloud veteran for photos of three men whose names were on the wall, but without the photos to match.
Reckinger realized over time that a total of 1,074 Minnesotans had fallen in Vietnam, he then set out on a quest to find information on Minnesotans who had fallen in Vietnam, including the three without photo ID. That quest would lead to the Minnesota Historical Society and its newspaper microfilm archives, where Reckinger had done family research. Over time and through various ways, Reckinger found photos for those three Minnesota names on the wall without one: Raymond Huot, Gary Peterson, and Mark Steely. And while newspapers helped, microfilm wasn’t—and isn’t—the only source for old service photos.
The photo for Raymond Huot came through two ladies with the St. Paul Park—Cottage Grove High school reunion committees, while Gary Peterson was found after the librarian in Peterson’s hometown sent a senior yearbook photo. As to the picture for Mark Steeley, it came through family members of Steeley’s in Colorado who had kept his Air Force photo. As Reckinger got more involved with history and research, he started volunteering at the replica wall as well.
“After volunteering at a number of sites since 2015, I was asked last year to be cadre,” he said. “I was at five sites last year and about seven sites this year.” Unsure as to what he will do with the VVMF come fall, Reckinger can look back on helping achieve an important milestone with relation to the wall.
As of June 2015, Minnesota became the sixth state to have at least one photo for each service member from the state listed on the Wall. Matching names to faces with historical research, Reckinger has helped bring about remembrance and respect for those who might otherwise have been forgotten, helping bring healing in the process.
As to the Wall, it will be on display at St. Thomas Academy from May 26 through May 29. Admission is free, the traveling display being supported through donations, along with the work of volunteers like Reckinger.