Traveling Vietnam Wall’s opening ceremony draws large crowd

By Christina Ramey - Tribune Chronicle

WARREN, Ohio (AP) — Gina Sferra stood in front of The Wall That Heals on Thursday afternoon looking at the name of her uncle, Robert G. Stanko.

The wall is a three-quarter traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The wall is displayed on the south lawn of Packard Music Hall and will be on display until Sunday.

“He was in the Army. He was killed at 19 years old,” Sferra, of Campbell, said.

She was only 6 years old when he was killed. Sferra was just one of nearly 400 people who showed up at Packard Music Hall for the opening ceremony of the wall.

The ceremony opened with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. There was also a C-130 flyover by the 910th Airlift Wing of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station to start the ceremony.

Many people spoke at the ceremony, including James Valesky, president of the Warren Heritage Center, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, and U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland.

Valesky greeted everyone who showed up and told the crowd about the history of the wall and what the wall means.

“We can pay tribute to the loved ones we lost. We can pay tribute to the families of those loved ones,” Valesky said. “And we as veterans can share our brotherhood and in some cases, sisterhood.”

Many of the people who were in attendance at the ceremony were veterans of the Vietnam War. For many, the wall is a way for them to honor those who served and those they lost.

Frank Clementino of Champion is one of the veterans who visited and is helping volunteer for the wall to honor those who have died.

One young visitor, Frankie Sante, 8, of Howland, dressed in a blue uniform to honor those on the wall.

“I’m dressed like this for supporting all of the kids that didn’t come home,” Sante said.

He also took part in the ceremony and helped his grandfather, Jim Rapone of Champion, lower the flag to half staff in honor of those on the wall. The flag will remain at half staff for the entire time the wall is here.

Directly after the ceremony, Ryan handed out a Vietnam veteran lapel pin and an official welcome home to all of the Vietnam-era veterans who were in attendance.

“It was unacceptable how you were treated when you came back to the United States and we’re trying to make that right in a very, very small way,” Ryan said.

The wall is open 24 hours per day, allowing people to visit the wall anytime that they want. Volunteers will be at the wall each day and night to assist people in finding names and to do rubbing of names.

“Our Vietnam veterans have taught us that no matter what our position may be on policy, as Americans and as patriots we must support all of our veterans,” Franklin said. “And we most support them, not only with our thoughts and prayers but with our actions. We must stand up for them each and every time that we can.”

By Christina Ramey

Tribune Chronicle

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