Escorting the 'Wall that Heals'

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Marie Denson
  • 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Four members from the 50th Civil Engineer Squadron joined Patriot Guard Riders June 7 to escort the official Vietnam Traveling Wall.

Robert Haux , the geobase technical services chief; Troy Porter, a plumbing work leader; Staff Sgt. Joseph Zupke, an electrician; and former 50th CES member retired Master Sgt.  David Gurley, rode along with the traveling wall, which has been dubbed "The Wall That Heals." It's a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and designed to travel to communities around the U.S.

According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund officials, the intent of the traveling wall is for veterans who have been unable to cope with the prospect of facing The Wall in Washington, D.C. to find the strength and courage to do it in their own communities.

This was the first time 50th CES members participated in this event, and they said they felt it was an honor to be able to escort The Wall That Heals.

"We are doing this for the Vietnam veterans," Mr. Haux said. "This was their war, and I think they deserve the respect."

Mr. Haux met Patriot Guard Riders while volunteering to ride in various events around Colorado. It was through these events that he learned about the traveling wall and the escorts needed to get the wall from Colorado state lines to just outside Fort Carson, Colo.

The Patriot Guard Riders are a diverse group of motorcycle riders from across the U.S. who ride together to honor fallen service members. They have an unwavering respect for those who risk their lives for America's freedom and security, according to their mission statement. Their main mission is to attend funerals at the family's request, to show respect for fallen heroes and help prevent interruptions created by protestors in a nonviolent manner.

"Santa Eddie," a Vietnam veteran and Patriot Guard rider for the last 10 years, arranged the state escort for the traveling wall and said the time spent is worth it.

"We feel (the traveling wall) deserves to be escorted from state line to state line," Santa Eddie said. "There were times during the Vietnam War that you couldn't even wear your uniform because you would get spit on. So we wanted to make sure that the men and women coming home now would not receive the type of welcome home we received -- they would get a hero's welcome. This wall deserves an escort, our brothers are on there."

"Sergeant Bob," another Patriot Guard rider and Vietnam Veteran, said he feels that escorting the wall helps provide the respect that other Vietnam veterans weren't given.

"I've done the wall escort since it's been up," Sergeant Bob said. "It's all about respect, giving the names of the people on that wall respect. I still remember going through (John F. Kennedy International Airport) and having my uniform top ripped off my back and having to get 18 stitches in my head."

The two drivers of the traveling wall Dan and Brenda Dobek, have been driving the traveling wall for 18 months. 

"When we bring the wall into somebody's community, I feel like we are taking the soul of that Soldier who died over there into that community, so his family and community can pay the proper respects to him," Mrs. Dobek said.

Mr. Dobek said he can recall the names of some of the individuals that he went to high school with and friends from the military.

"I retired after 23 years in the Army," he said. "This is the best job I could have. I'm right back to where I was before, helping the guys on active duty. This is the last job I'm going to have. For me it's personal. When you're young, you work to fill your wall, but when you're older you work to fill your heart."

Mr. Haux has ridden with the Patriot Guard Riders for a few different events, and said he is always looking for volunteers to come along.

"Anyone can volunteer to ride," Mr. Porter said. "We have retired and active duty military, civilians ... anyone."