SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Hundreds of Vietnam veterans filled Siouxland Freedom Park on Wednesday to pay tribute to their fallen comrades.
Inscribed on the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall are the names of 58,272 people who died in the Vietnam War. Mike Newhouse, president of Siouxland Freedom Park Inc., said there are still a dozen names that need to be added.
Newhouse, who spoke at the ceremony dedicating the wall replica in Freedom Park, said many soldiers who were listed as missing in action are still being positively identified. On Wednesday, he looked for someone he knew on the wall – in fact he had the location memorized.
"Panel 9E, line 39 -- Bobby Ruhl," he said. "We used to play Babe Ruth League baseball together in New Jersey. He was 14 years old. I didn't realize at the time, but he only had six years to live."
Newhouse said he learned about his childhood friend’s death when the original wall was dedicated in 1982 in Washington, D.C.
"I remember sitting down and watching the national news on TV and it was panning across the wall," Newhouse said. "And it stopped on PFC Robert Wayne Ruhl. And that's the first time I knew."
South Sioux City's 250-foot black granite wall is the only exact replica that duplicates the original design in Washington, D.C. The granite came from the same quarry in India.
The wall's completion officially opens a segment of Phase I of the $4 million, 55-acre park, dedicated to those who have served and died for their country. Organizers hope to break ground this summer on a 12,000-square-foot interpretive center.
The granite panels of the wall were escorted to Siouxland Freedom Park by American Legion Riders earlier this month. Since then, veterans have made a pilgrimage to the still unfinished park.
Sgt. Wayne Luber, of South Sioux City, served a year in the Vietnam War, and said the memorial is very emotional to him.
"I got some friends on the wall," Luber said. "But it's the best thing it could be. (The park) is really going to be great when they get the whole thing completed."
The 55-acre park held a crowd of several hundred people, veterans and non-veterans alike on Wednesday. As the dedication ceremony began, they stood from their lawn chairs and faced west toward the 165-foot-tall flag pole just behind the wall. Hats were removed and hands placed over hearts as trumpets played “The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by a dove release.
A plaque was presented to Doris Day, widow of Col. George E. “Bud” Day, which will hang in the new Interpretive Center.
“Today would have been our 65th wedding anniversary,” she said. “When Bud and I saw this (land) in 2007, it was hard to imagine what it would be like. Now, it’s just absolutely more than I imagined it to be.”
Wally Ulrich, of Hartington, Neb., who served a year in Vietnam, said the Freedom Park replica brings back the same sentiments as the original memorial.
"You don't forget that," he said. "I have seen the one in Washington, D.C., but now we are looking at it in our own backyard. It's wonderful."
Featured speaker, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Brendan Burchard, a Vietnam veteran and teacher and coach at Bishop Heelan High School, said the solemn moment was a reminder of the "priceless freedoms that others have given to us."
“When the fog of battle clears, and there is a little time to reflect, the knowledge that what has been done by so many guarantees the incredible freedoms that we have in this great country," Burchard said. "God bless America.”