The Wall That Heals Is Coming

Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

This weekend the Wall That Heals will be at one of five Southeastern locations in 2018. April 26 – 29 it’ll be in Lincolnton Georgia at the Curry Colvin Recreation Complex. It’ll be in Camden May 3 through May 6. The Wall That Heals exhibit features a three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The replica is 375 feet in length and stands 7.5 feet high at its tallest point. Drive just across the Georgia line this weekend and see it for free. Consider the wall a book, for each name is part of stories of valor, loss, and love, stories of Vietnam. My Lincolnton, Georgia, high school friend, Ernie Guthrie, went to Nam. He saw action and lost a lot of friends over there.

“Out of about 95 men in my company, 31 of them, including three helicopter crew, were killed when one of the three Chinooks we were being transported in was shot down as it approached Landing Zone Judy August 26, 1970, the worst hostile fire helicopter crash of the Vietnam War. For two days all we could do was watch it burn with ammunition exploding.”

Ernie sent me powerful photos of him in Nam, grainy and archival. In one image, a Lt. Washburn and Ernie are taking a break from patrolling. (“Lt. Washburn died at age 32,” said Ernie. “I have visited his grave at Sante Fe National Cemetery. His family tells me he died tragically.”) 

Photo courtesy of Ernie Guthrie.

Ernie describes the photo running with this column. “This picture is my favorite because it tells the whole story: jungles, mountains, radio on back, hot with towel around my neck, and trigger finger in ready position.” In another photo Ernie and two soldiers sit on sandbags. Guns ready. Ernie is grim, tight lipped, and gaunt. He lost 30 pounds during nine months of combat. Another photo. Dusk. Two men carry large plastic jugs. “They would bring us clean water when they could. Otherwise we had to put iodine tablets in creek water which was sometimes contaminated by dead bodies and who knows what else.”

In another image a Chinook chopper hovers over raw earth devoid of vegetation. It’s Landing Zone Judy where that doomed Chinook was shot down. Fate saved Ernie from boarding that Chinook. “We lined up in three lines. I got on the second Chinook. The third got shot down.”

Another photo. Ernie’s half covered in shade, half covered in sunlight. You can read “Ernie” and “War is Hell” on his helmet. His gun lies across his right knee. He tells me he was thinking about life and death.

When Ernie got back he shut down. “I flipped off a switch. It just didn’t happen.” But it did happen and all these years later Ernie has helped something else happen. Ernie and others have worked long and hard to bring the wall to Lincolnton. All the friends he lost? Their names are on The Wall That Heals. The wall honors the more than three million Americans who served in the U.S. Armed forces in the Vietnam War. Walk the length of this 375-foot replica wall that stands 7.5 feet high. Read the names of over 58,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. They did not get to come back and tell their story as Ernie has.

If you can’t make the trek over to Georgia, see the Wall That Heals in Camden next month. It’ll be there from May 3 through May 6 at American Legion Post 17. An escort and ceremonies attend the wall.
Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. The University of South Carolina Press released his book, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, in November 2015 and his and Robert Clark’s Reflections Of South Carolina, Vol. II in 2014. The History Press of Charleston published Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia in 2014. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia, “Georgialina.”

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