Memorial Wall Arrives Thursday

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The replica of the Vietnam Wall will enter Payson on Thursday at 9 a.m. with an escort of an estimated 1,000 motorcycles, many of them Vietnam vets.

Organizers hope to create a major community event around the arrival of the truck hauling the 370-foot-long, 8-foot high scaled down replica of the Vietnam Wall inscribed with the names of 58,000 men and women in the American forces who died in the course of that conflict.

The Payson Rotary Club will hand out 500 American flags to people lining Main Street to greet the motorcycle riders, many of whom will have escorted the wall from the New Mexico border.

The truck hauling the Vietnam Tribute Wall and its associated exhibits will go down Main Street, which merchants plan to decorate with flags, patriotic banners and ribbons. The truck will wind up at Green Valley Park, where crews will set up the replica near the existing war memorial.

Organizers believe the memorial wall's four-day stopover in Arizona will draw 15,000 to 20,000, since an estimated 550,000 Vietnam Veterans live in Arizona -- most of them in the Phoenix area.

The wall could draw one of the biggest crowds of the summer, including military detachments setting up camp on the outskirts of town, motorcycle riders along with veterans and their families coming to pay honor to friends who did not make it back.

Crews should have the wall set up by late afternoon Thursday. Volunteers will be on hand at the wall through Sunday, to help visitors find specific names on the panels, which generally list the deaths in chronological order. An alphabetical register will enable people to locate the panel bearing a particular name.

The wall will be open to visitation continually between the setup on Thursday afternoon and the end of the vigil on Sunday evening. Volunteers will provide security and information throughout that period.

Most of the formal ceremonies will take place on Saturday morning, starting at 9 a.m. Parking will be limited at Green Valley Park and there will be a shuttle from the Payson High School parking lots on Saturday from 8 a.m. till noon.

Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley will offer the keynote address. Romley lost both his legs to a mine while leading his Marine Corps Squad on a mission in 1968.

Pat Willis, a Vietnam vet and local banker who headed up the effort to bring the memorial back to Payson, will make opening remarks at a dedication ceremony.

Local organizers have arranged for a flyover by four F-16s from the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona National Guard, music by the Payson Choral Society, presentation of the colors by the CAP cadets, a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace and a memorial playing of TAPS at the close of the ceremonies.

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