WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Vietnam Memorial ignited deep emotion in a great number of veterans who took Thursday's 44th Honor Flight.
Of the 98 servicemen who flew to D.C. from Quad City International Airport, 89 are Vietnam veterans.
The memorial's black granite wall stretches far, inscribed with the names of 57,939 people who sacrificed their lives serving in Vietnam. Veterans had the opportunity to look up and find familiar names on the wall, some even rubbing them onto paper to carry along with them.
John Foxley, 74, of Grand Detour, said he’s seen the traveling wall several times but never the memorial in Washington.
“It sort of staggers your imagination,” Foxley said. “It just goes on and on and on.”
Vietnam veteran David Lawton, 71, of Thomson, head bowed, was overcome with tears as touched a name and remembered the lost life.
Ronald Anderson, 70, of Sterling, said he was feeling emotional. He found another Ronald Anderson on the wall. "The tears are coming,” he said.
Wilbur Wildman, 69, of Rock Falls, mentioned thewall-usa.com, a website people can use to search the names of those on the wall, six or seven of whom were from Sterling.
“It’s moving,” Wildman said. “It’s a lot of people. I know there’s a classmate, I just found his name on the wall he was a Sterling High classmate.”
David Rodekamp, 71, of Sterling, said the Honor Flight was his first time in Washington D.C. and his favorite thing to see was a “toss up” between the Vietnam and World War II memorials.
“We looked up two names that were from Sterling,” Rodekamp said: Jerry Celletti, 18, and Stephen Charles Sellett, 23, both of whom served in the Army.
Tom Thompson, 70, of Rock Falls, said he was able to connect on the flight with some people he went to high school with. He also found some of his old classmates’ names on the wall.
As they walked along the wall, veterans stopped to support others feeling emotional, others smiled and laughed lightly as they recalled memories of those who died.
Joseph Randall, 67, of Savanna, served in Germany before being sent to Vietnam.
“In Germany you play war, and then you go to Vietnam and you find out it’s no play over there.”
Some men needed assistance rubbing names onto their papers, and guardians and other memorial visitors were eager to assist.
Each man wore a gold shirt identifying them as a veteran, and they were greeted with a “Thank you for your service,” a handshake, and requests for photos, including William Kirkham of Cordova.
“I don’t think I’ve ever shaken hands as much as I did today,” he said.