Tuesday, May 18, 1999

Vietnam Memorial
returns to Hawaii

A former POW will
speak at the opening of the
traveling wall Friday

The wall will be in front of
the Arizona Memorial and will be
open 24 hours a day.

By Gregg K. Kakesako


It's been more than decade since the traveling replica of "the wall" was displayed on Oahu.

During its weeklong visit in 1987, the half-size replica of the Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial sparked controversy and a flood of emotions.

The controversy may have subsided, but the emotional impact hasn't.

"It's really an eye-opener," Vietnam Army veteran Doug Carlson said, remembering a fallen comrade whom he described as "being one of the best and brightest and who was cut down in his prime."

The 250-foot-long traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial will be set up on the lawn fronting the USS Arizona Memorial on Thursday and will be open to the public the following day -- 24 hours a day.

Four feet tall at each end and rising to 6 feet in the center, the replica is made of aluminum. It stretches nearly as long as a football field, with the names of 58,175 Americans killed in Vietnam etched in white on the black panels. Three hundred twenty of those names are from Hawaii.

"It's a chance to see all those names," said Carlson, 57, who was among the Vietnam veterans who helped bring the exhibit to Hawaii in 1987. "It's a reminder of those who were lost there."

Retired Navy Capt. Gerald Coffee, who spent seven years as a prisoner of war after being shot down over Vietnam in 1966, will offer a few remarks during Friday's 8 a.m. opening ceremony.

The National Park Service is sponsoring the visit, which will conclude with a special sunset Memorial Day service beginning at 6 p.m. May 31. Keynote speaker will be retired Army Gen. Frederick Weyland.

Chief ranger Randy Wester said other sponsors include Hawaiian Air Lines, which transported the nine crates containing the exhibit from the West Coast; Hawaiian Electric, which will provide the lighting to keep the exhibit illuminated throughout the night; and Alana Waikiki Hotel.

Attorney Tom Stirling, 57, is credited for spearheading the effort of local Vietnam veterans 12 years ago to bring the wall to Hawaii.

Stirling, who served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam, is not sure what kind of impact this week's visit will have.

"I'm interested that it's coming and I am curious to see what happens when it comes here again, said Stirling, for whom the wall still evokes emotional memories.

"I am sure that it is going to be different in a lot of ways; and it's also going to be the same in a lot of ways."

Its creator, John Devitt, a Vietnam helicopter door gunner, also will be here during the wall's visit.

The original monument, of black granite, was created by Maya Lin.

The first traveling replica, built by Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver and other Vietnam veterans, was unveiled in Ty-ler, Texas, in October 1984. There are three replicas: Two go on tour 10 months of the year; one serves as a backup.

The park service is looking for volunteers to work at the exhibit and help visitors find names on the wall.

Call Terry Dorman at 422-2771, extension 133.

E-mail to City Desk

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