It was a humbling, surreal experience for Coupeville resident and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Mike McClung.
That’s how he described taking part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Education Center at The Wall, which took place at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. in November.
“It was humbling to be there,” McClung said. “Rubbing shoulders with some of the most influential people in the country was quite an interesting feeling; for me it was a somewhat surreal experience.”
McClung was one of the speakers at the ceremony, sharing that honor with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, among others. A Vietnam veteran, McClung is also the Gold Star Father of Maj. Megan McClung, the first female Marine officer killed in action in Iraq. His speech on the legacy of service earned him a standing ovation.
“I talked about my family’s legacy — my father was in the Army, my father-in-law was in the Navy and flew PBYs out of Oak Harbor. I served in Vietnam and then of course, there’s Megan,” he said. “I also talked about the wives and mothers of the World War II era who served this country in their own way.
“And I talked about Lt. Joe Laslie, who was killed May 25, 1968, in Vietnam,” McClung continued. “His family is gone. No one remembers Joe. Those are the people whose stories need to be retold.”
And that is exactly the purpose behind the Education Center at The Wall. Based on the premise that there is a face and a story behind every name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the goal is to bring those stories to life. Through digital technology, the faces of the 58,282 whose names are on the wall will be displayed and a collection of personal items left at the memorial will be on display. The center will also feature a history of America’s conflicts and an exhibit capturing the homecoming experience. A portion of the display will serve as an interim national memorial to those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“If we don’t remember those who have gone before us, we’ve lost part of our history,” McClung said.
McClung said it’s important to try to remember why the US did what it did in Vietnam and that it’s important to remember the same thing about Iraq and Afghanistan. And, considering how long it has taken to complete national memorials for conflicts like Vietnam and World War II, McClung is pleased those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan will be recognized sooner rather than later.
“It’s recognition,” he said. “We don’t want to make the families of the fallen to have to wait 30 years to get it.”
The Education Center at The Wall is sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the non-profit organization that raised the funds to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington, D.C.
For information or to make a donation, go to www.buildthecenter.vvmf.org.