By Amira Van Leeuwen
KYLE — The city of Kyle was selected as one of 31 cities to host The Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as part of its national tour scheduled for this year.
The traveling exhibit honors more than 3 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed forces in the Vietnam War. It commemorates the names of the 58,281 men and women who died.
Jim Knotts, Vietman Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) president and CEO, noted that March 29 will be the 50th anniversary of the removal of U.S. combat troops from Vietnam.
“Our ability to bring this exhibit throughout the nation to honor and remember all those who served in the Vietnam War is always important, but even more on these milestone anniversaries. Even 50 years later, this generation must never forget how much we appreciate their service today,” Knotts said. “We look forward to providing our host communities a healing experience for local veterans and their families and an educational experience for all visitors.”
When Commander Kerman Hammond and the rest of Central Texas AMVETS Post 115 learned Kyle was selected, they were excited because The Wall That Heals has never been to Hays County.
“We have a bunch of veterans that can’t afford to go up to Washington D.C. so they will have the opportunity to come and see the replica here,” Hammond said.
But with this excitement came another feeling that Hammond could not find the words to describe.
“I couldn’t wait to call and tell my officers here at the Post,” the commander said. “It’s hard to describe how you felt because it means so much to us as Vietnam veterans to be able to do something like this.”
The Central Texas AMVETS Post 115 began fundraising early last year to bring “The Wall That Heals” exhibit to the area. Kyle City Council unanimously voted to support and fund the application and operations of hosting by contributing $11,000 to the exhibit back in August 2022, which was funded through Hotel Occupancy Tax funds.
The AMVETS estimate they will need $22,000 to cover other expenses such as food and water for at least 188 volunteers, generators and portable bathrooms. The organization will also be using a portion of funds to shuttle nursing home or senior living residents to and from the traveling replica.
Hammond said the AMVETS will contact residents if one of their loved ones fought in Vietnam and are now deceased.
“There is a memorial that will be recognizing them for that, and there’ll be pictures on the panel of the information trailer,” Hammond said.
The display debuted on Veterans Day in 1996. It is part of the VVMF, a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve the legacy of The Wall while providing veterans who have been unable to cope with the prospect of facing The Wall to find the strength and courage to do so within their communities.
The replica is 375 feet long and stands 7.5 feet high at its tallest point. Visitors will be able to experience The Wall rising above them as they walk towards the apex — a significant feature of the design in D.C. of The Wall.
Similar to the original memorial, The Wall That Heals is built in a chevron shape and visitors can do name rubbings of the individual service members’ names on The Wall. The names are listed in order of date of casualty and alphabetically on each day. The first and last casualties are side-by-side at the apex of the memorial.
The replica is constructed of Avonite, a synthetic granite, and is supported by an aluminum frame. There is also LED lighting from the top of the replica, which will give visitors readability of The Wall at night. The exhibit, which includes a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a mobile Education Center, will be on display from May 4 through May 7 at Lake Kyle Park, located at 700 Lehman Road.
For the 2023 schedule, VVMF had more than 101 applications and narrowed it down by seeing if the applicant organization has hosted an event like this before, date flexibility and if they recognize that the exhibit is an entity unto itself.
“The Wall is the Wall and it stands on its own. It doesn’t need to be a part of something else,” said Tim Tetz, VVMF’s outreach director.
The applicant organization must also show VVMF that they have “broad community support.” Tetz said that the three representatives from AMVETS and the city came to meet him in San Antonio last fall, which is what “sealed the deal” for them.
“They clearly, obviously not only understood Vietnam veterans, because I think one or two of them were, but they had the passion and the connections with the veterans community that was going to be able to bring this together,” Tetz said.
City council member Michael Tobias said he is excited that the city was selected.
“It’s a very big honor,” Tobias said. “A lot of hard work was put into this from our AMVETS and so many others to make this happen. This will be a memorable event for our veterans, the city and our citizens to view and experience.”
The Wall That Heals is sponsored by USAA and can travel across the country through its partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association, the trucking industry and Blue Beacon.
Those interested in donating to the AMVETS may do so by mailing or dropping off a check to Central Texas AMVETS Post 115 at 401 Rebel Drive in Kyle. The Post is open 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.