By Allison Collins
ONEONTA – A large crowd gathered in Oneonta’s Neahwa Park on Friday evening, May 26 for an opening ceremony of the Wall that Heals, the traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. bearing the names of the 58,315 souls lost to that conflict.
Gene Schmidt, a Unadilla man, worked diligently to bring the wall to the area and, beginning with its installation Thursday, this past weekend saw the culmination of his many months of effort.
Under overcast, spitting skies, Schmidt said he was “over the moon” to be welcoming community members to the wall, which travels nationally six months out of the year and visits just 40 cities annually. “When I came to the city of Oneonta, I said, ‘This is what I want to do’ and not one person said no,” remarked Schmidt, calling Oneonta collectively “very gracious.”
Oneonta mayor Gary Herzig spoke briefly, noting, “The people of this community have waited 50 long years to see the names of its brothers and buddies come home.” Speaking specifically to those local folk who lost family and friends in Vietnam, Herzig added, “We can finally say to the families whose names are on this wall: thank you and welcome home.”
Praising Schmidt’s tirelessness, Herzig reiterated how few stops the wall makes across America, saying, “For us to have it here, particularly for Memorial Day, is quite an accomplishment. [Today] is a great day and a lot of people have come together to make it happen.” In conclusion, Herzig said, “50 years have passed, but the pain still lasts.”
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