2017-10-02 / Shorts

The Fiftieth Anniversary: “A Time to Heal”

Residents of Centre County have been working for years to plan commemoration events for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, including a weekend-long installation of a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Jennifer Fabiano

In 1982, nearly 10 years after the last American troops left Vietnam, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was completed in Washington, D.C. Now, 50 years after the first troops landed in Vietnam, Central Pennsylvanians will get a chance to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in their own town.

As a part of the multi-year 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemoration, which began in 2015, an 80-percent-scale replica of the wall will be on display at Innovation Park. The public is invited to visit the wall at any hour of the day from noon Thursday, Oct. 5 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8.

“It’s the only war memorial that has all the names listed,” says Robert Booz, co-chairman on the committee that worked to bring the wall to Penn State. “That alone is moving. This is a special kind of commemoration.”

This “traveling wall” allows those unable to travel to Washington, D.C. to still experience the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The replica includes all 58,191 names of those who lost their lives in the war.

Booz, a Penn State graduate, has been working for years to bring the wall to Centre County.
He was a member of the R.O.T.C during his time at Penn State and went on to fly a C7 Caribou for the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam.

The weekend-long community event is a part of a larger Centre County effort to reflect on the Vietnam War. WPSU has created a cross-platform project, “The Vietnam War: Telling the Pennsylvania Story,” in order to educate and tell stories of how the war affected Pennsylvanians. The project was borne out of a response to Ken Burns’ 10-part documentary film series that was released in September.

Producers Lindsey Whissel Fenton and Frank ChristopherProducers Lindsey Whissel Fenton and Frank ChristopherWhile Burns’ film series The Vietnam War discusses the war and its impacts on the world, WPSU’s 60-minute documentary A Time to Heal takes a local approach.  The documentary series producers, Lindsey Whissel Fenton and Frank Christopher, set out to find all kinds of people from Pennsylvania to talk about their experiences during the Vietnam War.

“There’s a universal that comes out of this film, but it’s also very specific to this region of the world,” says Christopher.

Whissel Fenton and Christopher set out to find many perspectives so they could tell the whole story of how the war affected people in Pennsylvania. In order to ensure variety, the documentary includes interviews with Army veterans, Navy SEAL veterans, Air Force veterans, family members of Marines and even anti-war demonstrators.

“We’re not making a judgment or pronouncement, we’re just telling a story,” says Whissel Fenton.

“Each perspective was different and we made sure we had talked to people who represented the range of different experiences.”

The WPSU project includes the television documentary series as well as a radio documentary, A Time to Lay It Down – The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War, a two-part show about the music heard both at home and abroad during the war. Both documentaries were broadcast in September and are available for streaming on the project website,

Both the television documentary and the project’s website feature stories of those who were affected by the war, like Bellefonte resident Debra Burger. Though she never served in the Vietnam War, she experienced it through her older brother, Lewis.

Lewis went missing in action after his plane was shot down when Burger was only 11 years old. She and her parents spent their lives searching for answers and information about her brother.

“I grew up with him being missing,” says Burger. “He went missing one month after my 11th birthday, so most of my preteen and early years were with my parents trying to find out information about him.”
The project’s website allows visitors to read through different stories and even to add their own.

“It’s a very human project,” says Christopher. “It’s not taking a position and saying, ‘Well, these people are wrong,’ because that would be a mistake in this particular war.”

Remembering Veterans

Oct. 4-8
Visit the Traveling Wall installation at Innovation Park, where various activities will provide opportunities to reflect, honor and interact with veterans.

Oct. 4
4:30 p.m. Motorcycle Honor Escort leaves Weis parking lot in Bellefonte and kicks off the Welcome Ceremony.

Oct. 5
Noon The wall is officially open to guests. Visitors welcome 24 hours a day.
5:30 p.m. The Opening Ceremony takes place at the wall.

Oct. 6
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The area high schools are invited for Education Day at the wall. Students will hear stories from Vietnam War veterans, view a reenactment camp, and be able to trace a name on the memorial wall.

7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The Essence of Joy concert will take place at the wall.

Oct. 7
10 a.m. The Bellefonte Community Band concert will take place at the wall.
11:30 a.m. The County Veterans Affairs Ceremony will begin.
3 p.m. Big Band Sound will perform.

Oct. 8
1 p.m. The closing ceremony will begin.
3 p.m. The wall is closed to the public.

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