The replica of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial – The Wall That Heals – is coming to New Bern in April, and organizer George Halyak is trying to gather 2,000 motorcyclists to accompany them to make their arrival very special.
The ¾ replica of the Washington, DC memorial, which lists the names of 58,279 Americans who died in the 20 Years War (Nov. 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975), travels annually to cities across the country and settles down in prominent locations The display – the size of two soccer fields – is open around the clock for several days.
Halyak, who heads the Bring the Wall committee with the Knights of Columbus
American Legion Post 539 worked hard March 26-29 at Lawson Creek Park last year preparing for the visit. However, the visit was canceled due to the key issue of 2020: COVID-19.
“Last year it was planned in Charlotte before it came here,” he said. When the COVID numbers started to rise, the organizers decided to cancel the tour there. As a result, Halyak said, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founder of The Wall That Heals, decided it best to cancel all year.
However, Halyak was unwilling to forget his dream of making New Bern a setting for the Wall. “I worked on this for two years and two months,” he said.
Now the wall will return from April 8-11, and New Bern will be the first city in the country to receive it. A total of 25 cities will host the annual tour with the exception of 2020, with Charlotte being the next stop. Garner will eventually also house the wall: “It will be the first time in 26 years that it goes to three cities in one state,” said Halyak.
Bringing in the wall is an important matter of pomp and circumstance. A patriotic parade leads from Morehead City to Lawson Creek Park in New Bern, where it will be set up on the Thalmann Soccer Field. It’s an appropriate choice: the field is named after officer Alexander Thalmann, a young New Bern police officer who was murdered on duty in April 2014.
Halyak said his committee is still looking for motorcyclists. He’s already hired New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw to lead the escort from an as-yet-undetermined staging area in Morehead City – Outlaw is a Harley-Davidson enthusiast with a bike for the 100th anniversary he made about 15 years ago bought.
Halyak admitted some concerns about collecting the number of riders he wants. Harley-Davidson has closed 200 dealerships nationwide, including the one in James City, an important location in the past for driver recruitment.
Along with the bikers, Halyak said the committee was looking for antique cars and anyone who wanted to take part – “The longer the parade, the better.”
On the way from Newport to New Bern via Havelock, police and fire departments are encouraged to show support and residents are asked to line the streets and wave flags.
In addition to the land parade, Halyak said a flotilla of 200 boats is also expected.
Upon arrival, 30 volunteers and two VVMF staff will spend 8 hours building the synthetic marble wall.
Halyak said a program to open the wall is likely to be the same as that slated for 2020 and will include Ollie North as the keynote speaker.
The display is open around the clock and the observers stand overnight.
Along with the names of the men (and a small number of women) who died in the war, an additional program called “In Memory” is included. “There were veterinarians who came home in one piece but eventually died of Agent Orange or suicide,” or other war-related reasons, Halyak said. In Memory was founded in 1993 and is a roll of honor with more than 4,100 award winners (see https://www.vvmf.org/Honor-Roll/).
The wall requires that at least 250 people are allowed to be on the wall at any time, but as large as it is, Halyak does not see this as a problem. Volunteers have hand counters in the field to keep track of the numbers and signage requires visitors to maintain social distance and wear masks. Hand sanitizer is available immediately.
Halyak hopes the increasing number of vaccinations will help bring the COVID numbers down by April, which makes the visit appropriate. While he doesn’t expect to see the 20,000 and more visitors the wall normally attracts, he believes it will attract at least 10,000 who want to honor relatives and loved ones, or who just want to watch and be part of an important part of the American History.
All drivers wishing to register should contact Jack Olmstead at 252-638-1704.