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Thousands gather to pay their respects at the Traveling Wall

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Three-year-old Henry Froncekoski's hands caressed the face of the wall, his small fingers gliding across the white inscriptions.

His mother, Christine Froncekoski, of McDonough, was eager to take her four children and three nephews to see the wall for its historic value.

On Friday, the family attended the opening ceremony of The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, which will be on display 24 hours a day through Sunday at Heritage Park in McDonough.

"I really wanted to bring the kids to see it," Froncekoski said. "I didn't want them to miss it. It [represents] history and the realization of how many people fight for our country and give their lives, so that we can live freely."

Opening ceremonies for the wall included an appearance by honored guest Raymond Davis, the son of Gen. Ray Davis.

The U.S. Army Ground Forces Band performed during the opening and closing activities. Henry County Judge Jim Chafin, a retired colonel with the U.S. Air Force Reserve, welcomed guests to the ceremony. And Sgt. Maj. Tom Davis, a former P.O.W., and now retired from the U.S. Army, was the honored speaker. He was later followed by guest speaker, Col. Michael Steele, of the U.S. Army Forces Command.

Thousands were expected to turnout this weekend to view the wall, made available at the park in coordination with the City of McDonough Tourism and the Henry County Parks and Recreation departments.

McDonough is the sixth city to host the wall this year. Only eight others will host the traveling memorial the remainder of 2008.

"This makes it available for people who can't afford it, or for health reasons, can't go to Washington, D.C.," said Greg Welch, wall manager.

The wall is a three-fifths-to-scale replica of the memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is owned by the non-profit grassroots organization, Cocoa, Fla.-based, Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard, who built the traveling memorial wall in 2005.

This weekend, the wall will flank Henry County's Patriot Festival at the park, which also celebrates National Flag Day, today, June 14.

Sixty-five-year-old Edward Branan, of McDonough, visited the wall in pursuit of finding the names of old friends with whom he served. "There are a couple of guys I knew," said Branan, who served in the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division.

According to the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, Branan is one of more than 16,000 veterans currently residing in Henry County. Nearly 25,000 veterans live in Clayton County.

"These guys did like I did and served our country," he added. "I just hope the country stays behind them. It's disheartening to come home to that [political distaster]."

The wall is scheduled to be disassembled at 9 a.m., on Monday and will pass through the McDonough Square at about 11:30 a.m. The memorial wall will arrive at its next location in Bloomington, Ill., on June 22.