The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of the most powerful memorials our country has erected. Wednesday, a three-quarter size replica was escorted into southern Colorado and onto the grounds of Colorado State University Pueblo by first responders and the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders.
The wall is part of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute. Stretching 180 feet in both directions, its 72 panels list the names of fallen and missing soldiers from the Vietnam War. Veterans with the Patriot Guard assisted with assembling the wall.
It was an emotional experience for many of them. Some of the veterans fought in other wars, but knew all too well the loss each name represented. Others, men who fought in the jungles of Vietnam, were touched deeply. "It's a trigger. It can set off a range of emotions; anger, guilt, fear, flashbacks and nightmares, each person varies according to their experience in Vietnam," explained Butch Chavez, a Vietnam veteran.
As much as he would like to, Chavez has never been able to go to Washington D.C. to see the original memorial. Neither has Sharon Montoya. Montoya was the among the first to visit the wall in Pueblo. She arrived with her brother-in-law. They were looking for her husbands name.
Montoya never remarried after he husband was killed in Vietnam. For the last 45 years she has kept him near her with pictures and the letters they wrote to each other while he was overseas. Sharon read part of his last letter to me, "It's dated January 23, 1966. He says, Dear Sharon I wonder if you still remember me," it began. It ended, "I love you very much Sharon, I am very tired of being away from you. I must see you again. So long Sharon, your husband, Alex."
Alex Montoya was killed in an attack on his position a week after he wrote that letter. He had less than 100 days to go before his tour would be up. Sharon says, she never remarried because Alex was her soulmate, and he was just that good of a man. She raised their two children by herself.
When Sharon found her husband's name on the wall, she immediately reached up and touched it. It was something she wanted to do for a long time.
A memorial to Pueblo soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam has his name etched into it, but it's too high for Sharon to reach. She says, it's the first time she's been that close to him in years.
Colorado State University Pueblo paid for the exhibit to come to Pueblo. The traveling memorial wall will officially open Thursday with a ceremony scheduled for 10:00 a.m.
It will be open to the public for 24 hour-a-day viewing Thursday through Sunday (September 30 - October 3) on the CSU-Pueblo campus east of the Hasan Amphitheatre.