ParkTalk Blog - Naperville’s Vietnam Wall of Remembrance 2023

Thursday, November 2, 2023

2023 is the 50th anniversary of the departure of the last U.S. combat troops from South Vietnam. Several community organizations in Naperville, including the Naperville Park District, are working together to display a replica of the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance along the Riverwalk from November 9-13.

Wayne Fischer is a Vietnam Veteran and serves on the 2023 Vietnam Wall organizing committee representing the American Legion, the VFW and all Vietnam Veterans. Ray Kinney is a founding partner of Blooming Color, which is donating the name panels for the wall.

The 2015 Naperville Vietnam Wall of Remembrance. Courtesy of James Hoch Photography.

As our ParkTalk Blog guests, Wayne and Ray provide insights and details to enrich your experience and understanding of this memorable event.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Naperville's Wall is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Wayne Fischer has visited the memorial and tells us more about it.

Wayne: "The Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. is the most visited memorial on the National Mall, attracting more than 5 million people each year. The massive wall lists the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women who lost their lives during the Vietnam War.

"The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was dedicated on Veteran's Day in 1982, fulfilling one veteran's promise to never forget those who served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War.

"Across from the Wall is the Three Servicemen statue honoring those who fought and returned from the Vietnam War. This statue was unveiled on Veteran's Day, 1984--two years after the Vietnam Memorial Wall was dedicated.

"Not far away in another grove of trees is the sculpture of three servicewomen carrying a wounded soldier. This is called the Vietnam Women's Memorial. This sculpture was dedicated in 1993 and honors the contributions of women serving in the Vietnam War. In the sculpture a nurse sits on sandbags holding a wounded serviceman while another searches the sky for help, perhaps a helicopter pick-up, the third kneels behind the sandbags holding the soldier's helmet in her hand. In Vietnam, women did not serve in combat, but they did serve as nurses in medical battalions. Also, they served as nurses aboard hospital ships, namely the USS Sanctuary, and the USS Repose."

Editor's note: You can learn more about the history of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here and why it was built.

Naperville's Vietnam Wall of Remembrance in 2015

A replica of the Vietnam Wall was first displayed in Naperville on Rotary Hill in November 2015 as part of the Healing Field of Honor that displayed 2,015 American Flags, many of which were dedicated to those who served in the armed forces.

Ray Kinney being interviewed at the 2015 Vietnam Wall of Remembrance. Courtesy of James Hoch Photography.

Ray: "When we first did the wall back in 2015, it was extremely well received by the community. Rotary Hill was full of the Healing Flags and at the bottom of the hill was the Vietnam Wall. It was humbling, somber, and inspiring. The number of casual conversations I had with complete strangers whenever I visited were incredible. People travelled to experience the display of our nation's heroes."

Wayne: "When the Wall was displayed back in 2015 on Rotary Hill, it was a very special event, as our 2023 Vietnam Wall of Remembrance will be. To me what was interesting in 2015 was the large number of people that showed up during the day and at night to view the Wall and the 12 plaques. There was a plaque for each of the 11 men from Naperville who lost their lives in Vietnam and a 12th plaque to honor all those who died because of their service in Vietnam.

"I always felt it was interesting that people who came to view the Wall didn't seem to ask a lot of questions. They knew who they were looking for on the Wall. They were very quiet and spent time thinking about their relationship with the fallen Veteran listed on the Wall. It was very memorable for a Veteran to watch people do that and we hope they will do the same this year. That's why we named our Wall the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance. We want this Wall experience to be a memorable event. This is not a ceremony or celebration. It's a memorable event and we want to keep it that way."

Wayne Fischer at a Veterans Day Ceremony. Courtesy of James Hoch Photography.

Community collaboration makes possible a new display of the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance in 2023

Naperville Park District is co-sponsoring the 2023 display of the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance along with several other community organizations and businesses.

Ray: "There are a lot of companies and organizations assisting this year. Naperville Responds for Veterans has stepped up in a big way to help--not only with the construction and security of the Wall, but also, going forward, they will carefully disassemble it, store it and make it available to other groups and communities that wish to honor our veterans with the wall."

Wayne: "There are many organizations and individuals that will help put make our Vietnam Wall of Remembrance a truly special and memorable event. 84 Lumber donated materials to display the Wall; Blooming Color is donating the name panels; The National Veterans Art Museum will have their Vietnam art on display at our VFW Hall next to the Grand Pavilion; and of course, many veterans are volunteering their time to assist at the wall from 6:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. The Chorus of DuPage will be there to help us present the Opening Day Program on November 9. Jim Hoch will be there to take pictures, documenting the history of this event. We thank the American Legion, Department of Illinois for their assistance in creating and printing the program for this special event. And of course, both our American Legion Post 43 and our Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 Combined Post Honor Guard and Color Guard will be there to present the Colors and a Final Salute each day at 8:00 p.m., in addition to our Opening and Closing Programs."

Editor's note: During the ceremonies listed above and on each night of the display at 8:00 p.m., an Honor Guard will perform "Taps" and conduct a three-volley rifle salute in memory of the fallen. The volleys signify "duty, honor, and sacrifice."

Behind the scenes of recreating the Wall in 2023

Both in 2015 and in 2023, Blooming Color took charge of printing the 58,000+ names on the panels for the Wall and donated their time and materials. Ray explains some of the challenges and why they did it.

Printing the 2023 panels at Blooming Color. Courtesy of James Hoch Photography.

Ray: "The real undertaking was back in 2015--when we first had to replicate the design of the wall and ensure every name is where it is supposed to be. Thankfully, we had an awesome designer, Julie Loge, who worked tirelessly to get it right. She spent weeks and weeks getting the names right and the panels correct. Then we had to figure out how to print the panels so they could be assembled to emulate the actual wall in D.C. That presented its own set of challenges, but again--thanks to the team of dedicated employees at Blooming Color who came up with a solution--it worked! Unfortunately, the wall was not stored and cared for as well as it should have been, so Wayne asked us to price out printing some of the damaged panels so we could do the wall again this year. After looking at the ones that were damaged and discussing it with my team, we decided the best thing to do was to reprint the entire wall so everything would match. So that is what we did. We do have new HP flatbed printers and a new Zund cutter so the actual printing and manufacturing was easier this time; however, we used more expensive materials to ensure the longevity of the wall.

"As in 2015, we are blessed to be in a position to donate 100% of the cost. When you think about it, those 58,000+ names represent not only the sacrifice of the man or woman who was killed, but the sacrifice of their families. These are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers that gave their all for a war they did not start, but were determined to finish. We are all grateful for their service and their sacrifice."

Highlights of the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance at the Riverwalk in 2023

Wayne: In addition to the Wall, we will have on display 11 plaques of the Naperville Fallen in Vietnam, and a 12th plaque highlighting all those who died because of their service in Vietnam. We will have veterans on duty from 6:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. to assist and answer questions, including whatever is necessary to help people appreciate and understand what the Vietnam War was all about and what our Vietnam Wall of Remembrance stands for.

"We will be holding our Opening Day Program on Thursday, November 9 at 10:00 a.m.--again, to help people understand why we are doing what we're doing. We will also have our Veteran's Day Program at 11:00 on Saturday, November 11. Normally this is held at Veterans Park, but this year we will hold it with the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance at the Grand Pavilion.

"We want to make every effort to help our youth understand what the Vietnam War was all about and to hear from those Veterans who served in Vietnam. Understanding what the Vietnam War was all about and what it entailed will help our youth plan their future.

A boy looks at the names on the 2015 Wall. Courtesy of James Hoch Photography.

"And lastly, we want to be there for everyone who comes and is looking for a name and history of a service member lost in Vietnam. We want this to be a special and memorable event throughout the five days the Wall is open to the public. Note that before coming to visit the Wall, you can search for a name at the virtual Vietnam Wall of Faces.

Riverwalk Grand Pavilion, near the location of the 2023 Wall.

Honoring Our Veterans

Visiting the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance is a great way to honor our veterans. After the Wall is taken down, there are still many opportunities to show support and respect to those who have served.

Wayne: "One of the best ways our Naperville community can honor our Veterans of all wars is this: When you see a Veteran, thank them for their service! They are easy to find as many wear a cap or jacket showing their Branch of Service. They appreciate it and it works!"