John Wilson Owen graduated from high school in the spring of 1966 -- before Flower Power, before "Make love, not war" became the mantra of the day --to join thousands of Americans in fighting a war he new little about.
His high school yearbook was inscribed with the usual sentiments.
"To a real sweet kid I have enjoyed knowing this year. I won't wish you luck, because you have enough good looks to get by on. Stay sweet as you are. Love always, Karla."
Four years later, Owen returned to Payson in a coffin, just one of the 58,213 soldiers to die in the war.
This weekend at Green Valley Park, visitors can see the names of those soldiers at the Vietnam War Memorial Moving Wall, when it makes its four-day stop in the Rim country. The Wall is one of three half-scale replicas of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Officially, the war began in 1964, but U.S. casualties began much earlier. The first name on the Wall --Dale Buis --was an American advisor who was killed in Vietnam in 1959.
The Vietnam War became one of the longest running conflicts in American history. Eventually --along with the American casualties -- more than three million Vietnamese were killed in armies and towns across Southeast Asia.
The last U.S. soldier returned from the war and stepped onto American soil to a bittersweet reception in 1975. The Vietnam War Memorial was designed as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the conflict, but also was intended to serve as a monument to soothe the souls of those men and women who were witness to unspeakable horrors in Vietnam while serving their country.
Dubbed "The Wall That Heals," the replica was constructed by a team of Illinois craftsmen. Each of the names on the Wall is laser-etched into panels of reflective black, powder-coated heavy aluminum, supported by a structural aluminum frame.
The replica, which features 144 panels as high as 8 feet tall, is 378 feet long.
A dedication ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday near the Wall, which will be on display through Sunday, May 7.
10 a.m. Saturday
The only formal event scheduled during the local appearance of the Vietnam War Memorial Moving Wall will be the dedication ceremony at 10 a.m., Saturday, at the gazebo in Green Valley Park.
The event will feature:
- The Payson High School marching band, which will perform before the ceremony.
• Rev. Jim Stewart of the Church of the Holy Nativity will deliver the invocation.
• Lt. Col. Kevin Osterman will deliver the opening remarks. The Headquarters Air National Guard Military Personnel Management Officer, Lt. Col. Osterman entered the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967, served a full tour and voluntary six-month extension in Vietnam as a radar operator for the First Marine Air Wing; and as an infantry rifleman and battalion intelligence scout for the 26th Marine Regiment.
• Luke Air Force Base will present colors.
• A bugler will play "Taps," and a bagpiper will end the ceremony with "Amazing Grace."
The Wall will be illuminated and open to visitors around the clock from Friday morning to Sunday evening.
Green Valley Park
- Traffic near Green Valley Park is expected to be high, especially Saturday, and parking is expected to be at a premium, with the bulk of it at the Stone Creek property on Summit Drive, just east of the Wall site. Shuttle services will be available.
•Parking is allowed at Julia Randall Elementary School Saturday and Sunday; Friday --while school is in session --visitor parking is strictly prohibited.
•Additional parking will be at the First Assembly of God Church and the Community Presbyterian Church, with shuttle service available as needed.
• Overflow parking will be directed to the Payson Multi-Event Center in south Payson, with shuttle services to the Wall site.
The Rim Country Rotary Club has minted 1,500 antique brass coins, commemorating the War Memorial's visit. Coins are available at the art display, located just west of the Rim Country Museum, for $5 each. Proceeds benefit the Payson War Memorial, a proposed monument to Rim country residents who fought in World War II.
- Computer services will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day to help locate names on the Wall. The computer center is across the parking lot from the Rim Country Museum.