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Vietnam War-era author praises effort to bring Traveling Memorial Wall here


April 17, 2013 - The American Veterans Traveling Tribute, or AVTT, Vietnam Wall will be on display in June at Lindbergh High School, 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

St. Louis native Grady Smith, a Vietnam War veteran and author of a celebrated novel about the conflict in Southeast Asia, says a visit to the Wall can be an invaluable experience for Americans of all generations.

"I can't tell you how important the traveling Wall is," Smith stated in a news release. "The first time I saw it, I expected to be disappointed, because it is not to scale of the actual Wall in Washington, D.C. But I wasn't — not at all. Every one of those more than 58,000 names is on the traveling Wall and represents someone who died in battle.

"The truth of what the traveling Wall means is in the responses of every person who visits it," Smith added. "A visitor doesn't need to have a relative or friend's name on the Wall — we're all affected by this huge national loss because we're all Americans. And it's particularly important for young people to see what any war means to the country and to those who are left behind — the losses of the Vietnam War and their emotional aftermath give important context to Gulf One, Iraq and Afghanistan."

Smith said he hopes young people will visit the traveling Wall because a visit should impress upon them that all wars come with enormous national and personal costs, and should only be launched under the direst circumstances.

The traveling Wall event for St. Louis, which begins with an escort to the high school Wednesday, June 12, is being organized by the Show-Me Hero Salute. The traveling Wall will have listed hours of operation daily, but the Wall will be available for visitation 24 hours a day until the closing ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 16.

Smith, who published a novel based on his own Vietnam War experiences, will discuss his book, "Blood Chit," at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 24, at the Kirkwood Public Library, 140 E. Jefferson Ave. The event, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the library and Friends of the Kirkwood Public Library.

The first half of Smith's novel is set in war-torn Vietnam. St. Louis is the venue for the book's second half when the protagonist tries to cope with the aftermath of "one firefight too many in the Nam Delta." "Blood Chit" was recently nominated in the fiction category for the 16th Annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards. Smith is a graduate of Bishop DuBourg High School, and now lives in Arlington, Va.

"I have to say that the drive to write seems to be universal among vets of all wars," Smith stated. "I participated in a writing seminar under the umbrella of Operation Homecoming, a project that's been out there for well over five years now — funded by the NEA and Boeing. Our seminar had a naval aviator from World War II, a grunt from Korea, a female intel NCO just back from Afghanistan, and we covered the collective military experience of the nation for the past 60 years.

"The writing experience and seminar are great therapy," Smith added. "One of the insidious aspects of Post-Traumatic Syndrome (PTSD) is its chronic isolation and entrapment in past experiences. But this writing exercise joins three or four generations together and it's a powerful dynamic for disempowering that killer isolation."

An important part of the traveling Wall experience also is to break down isolation among Vietnam War veterans, according to the release. The Wall brings them together and also allows other Americans to let the Vets know that their service and sacrifice have not been forgotten, the release stated.


Tags: St. Louis County News, Web Exclusive


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