Traveling Vietnam Wall visits Des Plaines, builds gratitude

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By Megan Sulak, staff writer 
The Vietnam War, a historic war which took place in 1955 until 1975, left 58,220 casualties and a vast dent in the 2.7 million soldiers who fought. On Sept. 27, the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) participated and helped in the preparation of the The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C., which shows and honors the fallen and missing soldiers and nurses from the Vietnam War.
The 300 foot traveling wall made a stop at Lake Opeka in Des Plaines, having events Thursday Sept. 28 through Sunday Oct. 1, such as a candlelight ceremony, a wreath ceremony and an opening and closing ceremony to remember those who lost their lives.
Des Plaines Chairman of Committees Michael Lake sent in an application last June and got the confirmation about hosting last October.
In order to complete the construction and preparation of the wall, many volunteers set off to help the park district build and prepare for the weekend.
One of these volunteers was senior Chris Chartouni, who has been a part of NJROTC since last school year.
Chartouni heard about this event a couple weeks before during a NJROTC night class and signed up right away.
“I was absolutely astonished by it,” Chartouni said. “Right off the bat I knew I wanted to visit it, as it honestly is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
On Sept. 27, 10 members, including Chartouni, set off to help. They ended up setting posts for the structure of the wall, putting tables up for flowers and assisting with the Vietnam-era tent. This took the group of volunteers about five hours to set up completely.
As well as the development of the wall, Chartouni’s Commander Jeff Morse asked him to represent a fallen Prospect alumni David W. Skibbe, who passed in Vietnam in 1964. Chartouni accepted and returned the day after for the opening ceremony, where they read off the names of the fallen soldiers that are represented on the wall.
“The wall itself, both setting up and taking part in the ceremony, was honestly so moving,” Chartouni said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling, but you almost want to clap with joy and sob at the same time when you’re surrounded by the people that gave up so much to defend the ideas our country stands for.”
As well as Chartouni, junior Dylan Manfredi went to assist the Des Plaines Park District and the traveling wall volunteers. His job was to sit in the back of the truck and pass the panels of the wall to the other volunteers. This job gave him some downtime, so he decided to read the names on The Wall.
Behind every name was someone who lived a life much like our own,” Manfredi said. “They struggled like we did, overcame as we did and grew as we did. Yet in the end they would die thousands of miles away in a war many of who didn’t wish to fight. … And although it may not be the same thing as the real wall, the names and people behind them are still very much real. And that’s all that truly matters.”