By Kristine Favreau
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – After several months of planning, preparation and dedication, the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Memorial Wall is arriving.
This afternoon, escorted by hundreds of motorcyclists, the wall will make its way from Waco to the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.
Keith Turner, director of Crawford-Bowers Funeral Home in Copperas Cove, made a successful bid for the exhibit to visit the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen. The memorial will be open to the public May 18 through 20.
Opening ceremonies for the exhibit will be held at noon Friday with an additional ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday. Closing ceremonies will be at 8 p.m. Sunday. During the opening ceremony, organizations, businesses and individuals will have an opportunity to lay wreaths at the base of the wall. Those interested in participating have been asked to contact Chris Robinson at 634-2638.
After arriving at the cemetery, volunteers will unload the wall pieces from a truck and set them up for viewing on Friday. There will also be a ceremony involving the burial of a Purple Heart to honor those who died as a result of the Vietnam War.
"The last few days have been really hectic," said motorcyclist Kirby Lack. "Tuesday is going to be even crazier. We're hoping to see a good 300 to 500 motorcyclists turn out for the ride tomorrow."
Initially event organizers hoped to see a greater turnout of riders, but with the wall coming in on a workday, it has limited the number of people able to participate.
Traditionally the wall is escorted between its destinations by motorcyclists. The cost of transporting the wall is donated by Dignity Memorial as a gift to the city hosting its visit.
"Recruitment for motorcycle escorts has been very well received so far," Turner said. "People realize that there is a need to pay honor to those who have fallen, not only in Vietnam, but in other wars as well."
Turner said motorcycle clubs from all over the state of Texas have called, asking to participate.
"We have the opportunity through our funeral home to honor and serve the veterans in our area," he added.
Lack participated as an escort during the 2006 tour. "There is a real power behind that wall. Just knowing it was in the truck, and what is represented, was very sobering for those of us escorting it," he said. "Riding down the freeway in Fort Worth, I saw people lined up on the sides of the road waving flags and cheering as we passed. "It's amazing to see the response from people."
Escorts are being asked to meet at the Flying J truckstop in south Waco at 11 a.m. on May 15. The slated route is to travel south on Interstate 35 before heading west on U.S. Highway 190 through Killeen, then southward on U.S. Highway 195 to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall is a three-quarter scale replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C. Dignity Memorial funeral, cremation and cemetery providers created the memorial in 1990 as a service to those who may never visit the nation's capital to see "The Wall" firsthand.
Since the replica wall was built, it has been displayed in more than 200 cities and visited by millions of Americans. In 2004, the reported number of visitors to the exhibit was 900,000.
The faux-granite replica is 240 feet long, nearly the length of a football field, and stands 8 feet tall. The names of 58,000 Americans who died or are missing in Vietnam have been inscribed on the wall.
The wall is expected to arrive at the cemetery between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. today.
Contact Kristine Favreau at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-3535