In the shadow of Kansas City’s monument to the “war to end all wars,” another monument to a more recent war drew hundreds of people on Saturday.
They made their solemn vigils to a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which is being displayed on the grounds of the National World War I Museum. The display closes with a ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Monday.
Although it is an 80 percent scale replica of the wall in Washington, D.C., it evokes 100 percent of the same emotional experience for many.
“You see a lot of grown men cry,” said Bob Collier of Kansas City, one of the volunteers on hand Saturday to assist wall visitors.
Robert Tignor of Independence was one of them.
“This is hard,” Tignor said, his voice clutching with emotion. “They were all special.”
Tignor came to find the names of two childhood friends, James Thomas and Charles Pope Jr., among the names of more than 58,000 Americans etched into the wall.
With the help of volunteers, Tignor and others found names they had come to see. They gently moved their fingers over the letters or used pencil and paper to trace them.
An Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era, Tignor said he had never been to the wall in Washington.
“I thought I should come out today and honor them,” he said.
When asked how he felt seeing it, Tignor replied, “Proud.”
Mike “Big Al” Alexander sat on his motorized scooter near the wall and quietly watched others who came to see and remember.
Alexander, 67, of Independence spent two years in Southeast Asia, assigned to the 23rd “Americal” Division. He still has a chunk of shrapnel in his left leg, a reminder of the land mine that blew him out of a Jeep and left him in a coma for 28 days.
“This is my history,” Alexander said. “These are my brothers and sisters on that wall. They died for our country’s freedom.”
Dansby Vogler of Overland Park came to look for two names: high school classmate Michael R. Finerty and Michael Thomas Murphy, the older brother of his best friend.
Before Vietnam, they were kids being kids. He recounted the first car wreck he was ever in. Finerty was behind the wheel of a 1957 Ford Fairlane.
“We hit a beer truck,” he said.
He got the word that Murphy had been killed on the evening of his high school graduation, Vogler said. Murphy, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, died trying to rescue a comrade from the battlefield.
“I’m thinking about what these guys might have been,” Vogler said.
James Mooney of Kansas City also came to look for the name of a high school buddy: Ken Orszulak from Lemont, Ill.
Orszaluk joined the Marines right after high school. He died at 18 in Vietnam.
Mooney joined the Army, and during basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he met Ron Northrop.
After their training, Mooney was sent to Turkey. Northrop went to Vietnam.
Northrop died in 1970 in Saigon.
“This is quite moving,” Mooney said Saturday.
John Smith of Independence brought his children. He thought the wall was important for them to see.
Smith came to find the name of a man he never met. Yet Prince A. Johnson Jr.’s act of heroism so many years ago probably played a big role in the life Smith has today.
“He saved my father-in-law’s life in Vietnam,” Smith said. “He (Johnson) was 20 when he died.”
His father-in-law didn’t come with them Saturday.
“It’s too hard for him,” Smith said. “There are too many wounds, too many emotions.”