Sinclair Miles slowly walked along a side of a half-scale model of the Vietnam War Memorial Sunday, quietly searching for the name of a son, Mark, who was killed in the war.
"I've got goose bumps, I'm telling you honestly," Miles, a La Mirada resident, said after he had found his son's name and taken a picture. "I'm nearly in tears right now."
Miles, whose other two sons also served in Vietnam but returned home safely, was one of hundreds who came to Hawthorne Memorial Park to scan the replica for the names of relatives or friends who died in the conflict or are still missing. Like the monument that sits in the nation's capital, the names of the more than 58,000 Vietnam dead and unaccounted for appear on the model.
Judging from some of those who filed into the park, the wood and plexiglass replica evokes the same powerful emotions as the real monument.
Lorraine Girard traveled to the park from her home in Altadena to pay tribute to a son. The son, Charles, served as a crew chief aboard a U.S. Army helicopter before he was killed in Laos in 1969, six days before he was to return home.
"When I was in Washington in 1983 I didn't shed a tear when I saw the monument because I realized these boys were finally getting the respect they were due, that people were finally recognizing them," she said. ". . . Today, I'm afraid I'm a little teary-eyed."
The model, built by a group of California Vietnam veterans, was assembled in the park to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the end of the long and unpopular war. Hawthorne city officials say that if the response the replica has received in other cities is any indication, thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families and friends will turn out to see the model through next Sunday.
Tom Quintana, a Vietnam veteran and the city's public information officer, said the replica will be on display 24 hours a day. Volunteers, most of them veterans, will maintain an around-the-clock vigil, providing security and assisting visitors in finding the names of those listed on the replica.
"This morning, the first time I saw it, I got teary eyes," said Vietnam veteran Richard Brandl, 40, who came to the park aboard a chartered bus with a group of Santa Barbara and Ojai area veterans. "It's very moving." Brandl said that at least a dozen names of his friends are on the monument and replica.
At Sunday's opening ceremony, U.S. Air Force Col. Jerry Driscoll, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nearly seven years, praised the veterans in a short speech. Proclamations passed by various cities decreeing Aug. 11-18 as "Remember Our Heroes Week" were posted on a park bulletin board, a Marine band played, a 21-gun salute was fired and taps sounded at dusk.
The model was created by the Vietnam Combat Veterans Limited, a nonprofit organization based in San Jose. It is 250 feet long and 6 feet tall at its highest point. It weighs 2 1/2 tons and is made of plexiglass panels which are disassembled after each showing.
Message of Display
John Devitt, a member of the organization and one of three Vietnam veterans who conceived the idea to build the model, said the replica was completed in October. The idea behind it was to honor those who fought in Vietnam, remind people of the seriousness of the conflict and bring the spirit of the Vietnam War Memorial to those unable to travel to Washington.
"I think the size of the replica takes most people by surprise," Devitt, 37, said. "People are shocked when they see it and they should be. We came back to a society where the whole attitude was that the war was no big deal. But this shows how big a deal it was."
Devitt, who served two years in Vietnam in the Army, said the replica has been on display in four Western states since it was built. Before the Hawthorne showing, it was set up in the parking lot of a shopping center in Killeen, Tex., where an estimated 25,000 people, some from as far away as Arkansas and Oklahoma, came to view it.
Devitt, who hauls the replica from town to town in a flatbed truck, said he never has to worry about finding help putting the replica together or taking it apart. "There is always a crowd willing to help. There are guys who show up specifically to take down panels with the names of their partners on it. It's a real family thing."
A Joint Venture
The showing in Hawthorne is being sponsored by the Hawthorne Veteran's Council, a group representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and World War I veterans. Council members said that in recent months they have attempted to lure more Vietnam veterans into the group and honor them.
"I think the Vietnam veteran is reluctant to join a veteran's group," said Ben Ainsworth, commander of Post 2075 of the VFW in Hawthorne. "I think a lot of them think they got punched around. They were ridiculed by their own friends and old buddies. We're paying our respects to those veterans."
Devitt said that the model will be trucked to Seattle and then ferried to Anchorage, Alaska, for display after the Hawthorne showing. "What we're trying to do is let the Vietnam veterans know they are not alone, that they are not the only ones that remember, that now we can all remember with pride instead of being afraid."