Memorial travels to Whidbey


Staff reporter

This week, Whidbey residents can reconnect with long-lost relatives and friends while remembering one of the country’s more divisive times.

A traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall has been erected at Oak Harbor’s City Beach. The wall is only a fraction of the original memorial which stands in Washington, D.C.

However, no one at City Beach Tuesday seemed to notice the reduction in size.

Everyone approached the wall deliberately. As people came closer to the memorial, their pace slowed, their faces sobered, their eyes widened at the lines of names listed on the wall — lines that don’t seem to end.

No matter how shocked visitors are at the volume of names, their vision focused on one particular name.

Enrique Cruze made his first visit to the wall Tuesday to look for friends. Instead of asking volunteers to find locations of names using computers, Cruze said he was “eyeballing” the wall.

“I have a lot of friends here,” he said. “I don’t want to miss one.” So far he’d found Juan Borja, Pete Panglian and Juan Cepeda.

Cruze, who recently moved to Oak Harbor from Guam, served two tours in Vietnam. His first tour was as an infantry squad leader in the south at Phuoc Vinh. He was a track commander of a personnel carrier near Black Virgin Mountain. U.S. Special Forces controlled the top of the mountain. The bottom was controlled by Viet Cong. Cruze’s Army unit scouted for the infantry as well as completed search-and-destroy missions against the enemy.

“We were fighting someone we couldn’t see. We only knew where the enemy was if we were fired on,” Cruze said, his eyes distant. He spoke for only a few minutes before returning to his search for friends on the wall. He needed to find James Buckley who was killed in June 1966.

At opening ceremonies Tuesday, U.S. Marines were honored for Vietnam service. “It’s a distinct honor to those who did their duty,” Marine Col. James Nichols said. He said young people may pay the ultimate price of war but the burden is carried by their families, friends and veterans.

An uncountable number of people died during the Vietnam War: men, women and children. But from the huge number of civilian and military dead on both sides of the conflict, concrete numbers are known. Some 58,245 names are listed on the wall; 1,200 are listed as missing.

Each name represents a someone’s father, husband, brother, sister or friend. At least three people listed on the wall listed Oak Harbor or Whidbey Island as their home of record.

See The Wall

Wednesday, July 28, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard Day.

Ceremony at noon.

Thursday, July 29, Firefighters and Law Enforcement Day.

Ceremony at noon with color guard and comments.

Friday, July 30, Navy Day.

11:30 a.m., Navy Band opener. Ceremony at noon with color guard and comments. Navy Band will provide post ceremony music

All Island Community Band will play Thursday evening July 29 at the gazebo.

Buglers will play Taps at 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

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