PALMDALE — On Veterans Day coming this Monday there will be ceremonies at the Antelope Valley Mobile Vietnam Memorial, but Saturday was a day to mark the 10th anniversary of what has come to be known with reverence and affection simply as the “AV Wall.”
Saturday was a day for everyone who worked as a team to build a local memorial to the 58,000-plus troops killed in Vietnam to tell the story of just how the AV Wall got built. The AV Wall is a half-scale portable replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington.
It seemed that everyone who joined together to build or present the Vietnam memorial had a story tell, and all were compelling. Founding AV Wall committee members shared memories, along with city officials, plus the woman whose company constructed the memorial in a small graphics business in Palmdale.
An official from the Department of Defense-sanctioned Vietnam Commemoration traveled from Washington to congratulate the small army of volunteers that mount the display of the wall for patriotic holidays and ceremonies.
Saturday’s 10th Anniversary Commemoration of the AV Wall brought Vietnam War fighting sailor Terry Ritz all the way from Las Vegas to sing the National Anthem. Cadets of the Air Force Junior ROTC cadets from Highland High School marched the colors of all service branches into the Palmdale Amphitheater, and presented the American Flag for an audience in the hundreds, out in warm, perfect weather.
Then, there was the son of a Marine who was an infant when his father was killed 51 years ago. The father of Ron Reyes was killed rescuing his buddies during a mortar attack that took his life.
Reyes was practically a newborn when his father, Ronnie Reyes, was in pitched battle at a place called “The Rock Pile,” just outside the perimeter of the Americans besieged at Khe Sanh. It was an epic battle, in the history books, but seared in the memories of troops in Vietnam during the year of the 1968 Tet Offensive.
“You are the reason that I am here,” Ron Reyes said. “You are the reason we enjoy our freedoms. You are the reason that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has a name.”
Reyes recalled his own first visit when the Antelope Valley Mobile Vietnam Memorial made its first visit to Simi Valley several years ago. “I went to that one because I live in Simi Valley.”
There, among the hundreds of Vietnam War veterans, circulating, looking for the names of fallen friends, Reyes said he wondered “if that was really my place.”
During that visit, he met Linda Willis, one of the original founding members of the AV Wall Committee. Soon, she was directing veterans to meet with him. Why? Because he was a Gold Star Son. It is an unwanted honor, but it is status that confers honor, and affection, particularly for the troops who fought in the long and controversial Vietnam War.
Five such tribute walls built by non-profit organization travel across American. The AV Wall is the only one built in a grass-roots community drive, and based on the West Coast.
Annie Pagliaro, Recreation Supervisor with the Palmdale Culture and Recreation Department, recounted how it was personally daunting to wade into the mission to present the AV Wall nearly 10 years ago.
With original committee members, she orchestrated the search for an ideal presentation site. Originally, veterans considered baseball fields — as a matter of engineering for the foundation of the portable, multi-segmented wall, which is more than 200 feet long.
Pagliaro suggested Palmdale Amphitheater at Marie Kerr Park, with a massive stage, and a rising hill of green grass. The veterans engineering team wondered if it would work. Somehow, it did. When the AV Wall is hurriedly erected in the Amphitheater grounds, the green hill sweeps up behind it, as if it were a national monument site.
April Graves, of the local firm Signs and Designs, worked with the AV Wall team to come up with a way to engineer, build and engrave the names on the AV Wall. The community drive to build the memorial would take nearly five years. “Fortunately, by then,” she said that a new technology was introduced that would make the multi-panel construction and its engraving of the 58,000 names practicable.
Stacia Nemeth, Co-Chair of the 10th Anniversary Committee, and AV Wall Secretary Linda Willis summoned to the stage all the members of the original committee from 15 years ago, to join with all the current committee members, in the awarding of AV Wall Commemorative Pins.
Specifically honored were AV Wall founding committee members, mostly Vietnam War veterans, including Point Man AV President Michael Bertell, President Emeritus George Palermo, as well as veterans counselor Gerry Rice, and AV Wall supervising engineer Glen Nester. The veterans were affiliated with a talking-counseling group, Point Man Ministries of the Antelope Valley.
Ramos said: “After the Vietnam Wall on the Mall in Washington, this is the Wall to come and see. The Point Man organization has simply achieved great, important work.”
Donna Termeer, representing Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, presented the supervisor’s official recognition, noting, “I grew up during the Vietnam War, and the names of friends of mine are on that wall,” underscoring the personal connection that the memorial inspires.
The Antelope Valley Mobile Vietnam Memorial will be on display at the Palmdale Amphitheater, 2723 West Rancho Vista Blvd. (Ave. P), with its 24-hour daily presentation continuing today, then Monday for Veterans Day, with ceremonies at 11 a.m. and Brig. Gen. E. John “Dragon” Teichert, commanding officer at Edwards Air Force Base, giving the keynote address. Taps are played nightly at 9 p.m.
The AV Wall will be on display until 8 a.m. Tuesday after Veterans Day, when it will be dismantled until its next presentation.