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'No noble wars, just noble warriors’: Traveling Memorial Wall honors those lost during the Vietnam War

Hundreds gathered at the Gonvick Fire Department on Thursday to view a Traveling Memorial Wall, offering a chance to heal, reflect and honor their fallen brothers and sisters of the Vietnam War. The memorial, which will be open to the public 24/7 until noon on Sunday, July 10, conveys just how overwhelming the casualties were during the Vietnam War.

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Attendees walk along the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, outside the Gonvick Fire Department, following the opening ceremony of the event held to honor those who died during the Vietnam War.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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GONVICK — Hundreds gathered at the Gonvick Fire Department on Thursday to view a Traveling Memorial Wall, offering a chance to heal, reflect and honor their fallen brothers and sisters of the Vietnam War.

After being escorted to Gonvick on Wednesday by members of the In Country Motorcycle Club and other Vietnam veterans, the Traveling Memorial Wall was erected, displaying the engraved names of more than 58,000 of those either killed or missing in action during the Vietnam War.

The memorial, which will be open to the public 24/7 until noon on Sunday, July 10, conveys just how overwhelming the casualties were during the Vietnam War. The names are in chronological order by date of their casualty on the 8-by-200-foot memorial wall.

“Most Americans see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those who survived and the families of those who didn’t, they see the faces and feel the pain these numbers created,” a plaque next to the wall read. “We are, until we too pass away, haunted with these numbers because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.”

There are exactly 58,307 names listed on the wall. Of those names, 33,103 were only 18 years old, 997 were killed on their first day and eight women who were there to nurse the wounded are listed as well. The most casualty deaths for a single month was 2,415 in May 1968.

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“Gonvick is nothing more than a small dot on a road map, yet we wanted to show the public that we are capable, willing and able to honor our fallen comrades,” Logan LeClair, a member of the U.S. Army, said as he took the podium during an opening ceremony for the wall display in Gonvick. “As some of you know, there are folks from Gonvick on that wall, but we find it fitting that peace and remembrance find them finally, especially here at home.”

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Member of the U.S. Army Logan LeClair speaks during an opening ceremony for the traveling wall display on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Following the address by LeClair, a large crowd stood for the National Anthem followed by the posting of the colors for each branch of the military presented by members of the U.S. Army.

Guest speaker and author, Wendell Affield, of Bemidji, enlisted in the Navy at 17. At 20, he was wounded in an ambush while driving a river patrol boat in Vietnam and medevaced home. Today, he speaks to groups about post-traumatic stress disorder and leads an Expressive Writing Therapy group for veterans.

“I’m humbled to be here today as we remember the men and women who died in Vietnam. It is our burden and our honor to remember them. Burden, because memories reawaken grief. Honor, because those men and women paid the ultimate price,” Affield said as he took the podium. “For veterans, we remember the person that died next to us. Families mourn their loved ones who didn’t come home. For all of us, every day is memorial day.”

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Vietnam veteran Wendell Affield speaks during the opening ceremony for the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonvick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Affield continued to tell a few stories about when he and a couple of friends road-tripped to see the wall in Washington D.C. and recited a poem he wrote about it called “After the Funeral.”

Remembering a soldier

Affield then mentioned one out of the 58,000 names engraved on the wall, John Sundquist.

“As I was preparing my speech today, I was looking for local Vietnam casualties. I found several from Clearwater and one young man from Gonvick,” Affield said. “As I learned about John, I came to realize that he epitomizes all the men and women on the wall.”

John Olaf Sundquist was born on Nov. 28, 1945. He was drafted into the Army and served during the Vietnam War, beginning his tour on March 30, 1966. Sundquist had the rank of Private First Class and his military specialty was Light Weapons Infantry.

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During his service in the Vietnam War, at 21 years old, Army Private First Class Sundquist experienced a traumatic event that ultimately resulted in the loss of life on Oct. 21, 1966 . His name is engraved on the memorial wall on panel 11e, line 96.

Affield went on to read some of the remembrances left for him posted on The Wall of Faces by his fellow comrades who were alongside him during the war.

One post made by Marvin Roach read:

“John, how I remember that day you left us. I had just talked to you and we were gripping about the conditions we were in," Less than two minutes later you lay dead. I wrote to your parents to let them know you were a true hero. I'm so sorry you never got to go back to your dairy farm in Minnesota. I have never forgotten.

Another post by Roach said:

“As I look at this photograph you look so serious but you were anything but. You were a funny and fun-loving guy who was always laughing… As others read this I want them to know you were a living breathing person with emotions just like themselves and you were and are far more than just a face on a wall.”

“John’s friends wrote those messages 53 years after he died,” Affield continued. “Brotherhood forged in war is lifelong.”

Sundquists’ brother and sister were sitting in the crowd inside the Gonvick Fire Department for the opening ceremony of the wall. John's brother, Leroy Sundquist, read the very letter his family received informing them of their brother's death.

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John Sundquist’s brother, Leroy Sundquist takes the podium to read a letter from John’s friends after his death during the opening ceremony for the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonvick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The letter, written and signed by seven of his friends, explained the extraordinary friend John was to all and his courage that won't go unremembered as he died trying to save two other men from his platoon.

In December 1966, John was awarded for heroism with a Purple Heart followed by many others. He left behind a loving family, his fiance and many friends. There in the Gonvick fire hall, a picture of John posing with several Vietnamese children, sat on the front table for all to see — not only a number on the wall — but a face.

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A photo of John Sundquist posing with several Vietnamese children is displayed during the opening ceremony for the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonvick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The third and final speaker and veteran of the Vietnam War took the stage to recite a short prayer followed by the playing of “Taps,” before the crowd made its way down to see the wall before dinner.

“This is a funeral,” the speaker said. “We were left to ourselves to welcome each other home. Hence this wall of heroes. Even so, we were considered the nobodies and the forgotten… but it was the unknowns and the nobodies who paved the way for the somebodies.

“All gave some, but some gave all.”

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Vietnam veterans stand and salute the American Flag as the national anthem is sung during the opening ceremony for the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonvick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Hundreds gather to view the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonvick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Members of the U.S. Army post the colors for each branch of the military during the opening ceremony for the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonvick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Hundreds gather for the opening ceremony for the Traveling Memorial Wall on Thursday, July 7, 2022, at the Gonvick Fire Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Next to the wall at the Gonvick Fire Department on Thursday, July 7, 2022, stands The Three Servicemen Statue with a plaque that reads: “To all the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their sacrifice. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: VETERANSMILITARYMEMORIALS
Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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