A very special 18-wheeler will roll into town on Wednesday, escorted by upwards of 200 motorcycles. Some of those cycle jockeys will be Vietnam veterans. The sign on the side of the big rig reads: “The Wall That Heals.”
For retired Army Col. Wayne Davis of Farragut, his healing continues almost 50 years after he piloted his final chopper flight of the Vietnam Conflict. “Twenty percent of those names on that wall are aviators,” Wayne says haltingly. “Lots of emotions when you see the names of the guys you served with and flew with. I still have nightmares and wake up and it’s amazing how much vivid detail you remember after all of these years.”
Many Vietnam vets suffer debilitating nightmares – some nightly. Wayne’s are down to around monthly, all of these years later.
Last Wednesday Wayne, a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Farragut, introduced two members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Capt. Bill Robinson Chapter 1078 to the club. Vietnam vets Robert “Buzz” Buswell and Chris Albrecht presented a program about this half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., that will be in town Oct. 4-8 at Berry Lynnhurst Cemetery, 2300 Adair Drive. It will be open to the public 24 hours a day, free of charge.
Wayne is 82 now and since 1991 he has owned Farragut Lawn and Tractor. He’s there every day, working full time. He was a little choked up and emotional during his introductions of Buzz and Chris. The memories, the experiences, and the men who served are very much a part of his heart and soul, right down to his flight boots.
He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1957 with a degree in mechanical engineering and a second lieutenant’s bar on his shoulder. He went from the Army Corp of Engineers to flight school and learned how to fly fixed-wing aircraft, experimental jets and then helicopters. Then he ended up flying choppers in Vietnam, both gunships and the Huey troop carriers. He flew more than 300 missions, and flying choppers in Vietnam was one of the most dangerous jobs there.
He served two tours in Vietnam – 1966-67 and 1970-71 – as part of the 101st Airborne. On his very first mission, he says: “We took fire in the cockpit and a round passed through my pants leg and lodged in the console. It barely missed me.” He was never wounded. A bullet didn’t ground him. It was a melanoma that a flight surgeon found on his neck that sent him to Walter Reed Medical Center for six weeks.
He then spent several years working in The Pentagon. While living near Washington he visited the real Vietnam Memorial “at least 50 times,” he says. “I’m not sure I want to see it again. It’s hard, really hard.” In 1983 he retired, after serving 25 years.
The wall has the names of 58,318 dead or missing in action soldiers along with eight nurses. “There are 17 names of men from my unit, my unit” Wayne said. “Pilots and gunners.”
On the wall are the names of 149 East Tennesseans who sacrificed their lives. The replica wall is approximately 250 feet long and is erected like the original memorial in a chevron shape. A mobile education center will also be on-site with exhibits to tell the story of the Vietnam War, the wall and the era surrounding the conflict designed to put American experiences in Vietnam in a historical and cultural context. If you want to find a name, one of 340 volunteers will be there to help you – 24/7.
At first, Wayne said he didn’t want to relive the memories of Vietnam. “But this morning (Monday) I woke up thinking about it and I’ll probably go visit it. It’ll be hard. Lots of sobering and sad memories. I’ll probably try it.”
- Mayors Madeline Rogero and Tim Burchett will lead an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, at Lynnhurst Cemetery. Food City’s Fountain City store is just across Adair Drive from the exhibit. Store employees are providing the cake for the opening ceremony through the Red Cross and the company is donating flowers for a dinner on Thursday. Food City also donated $10,000 to support the exhibit’s visit. Extra parking is available in the Food City parking lot.
- Presentation by Quilts of Valor 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 6.
- Presentation of The Missing Man table and The Soldier’s Cross by Ann M. Wolf 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, immediately followed by keynote speaker retired Captain Bill Robinson, the longest held enlisted prisoner of war in U.S. military history.
- Presentation of The Missing Man Table and The Soldier’s Cross by Ann. M. Wolf 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, immediately followed by a devotional service conducted by military chaplains. Info: www.knoxwall.com