RICHMOND, Va. –
When Virginia Army National Guard recruiter Staff Sgt. Chris Dickenson heard about the Wall That Heals, he knew it was something he wanted to bring to his community in Southwest Virginia. Unveiled by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in 1996, the Wall That Heals is a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Made of avonite, a synthetic granite, the Wall is made of 140 numbered panels stretching 375 feet in length and standing at 7.5 feet at its highest point. Just like the original wall in D.C., visitors can make rubbings of the more than 58,000 names etched on the wall. To date, the Wall has been displayed in nearly 700 communities, according to its official website.
“Personally, to me the Wall means so much,” Dickenson said. “To be able to see those names on that Wall of all of our heroes in our country brings so much pride for me.”
Dickenson said he was told about the Wall by a city worker, and took it upon himself to reach out to find out about getting it displayed in his area. Eventually, he got a call back and after a handful of delays due to COVID shutdowns, the Wall That Heals was displayed at Poplar Gap Park in Grundy, Virginia, from May 6-9, 2021.
Dickenson was part of the team who helped set up and take down the Wall and he said he helped spread the word about it, too. Plus, he recruited local community members to volunteer for shifts watching over the Wall while was on display at the park.
“My Involvement was kind of all over the place,” Dickenson said. “I did anything and everything the team needed me to.”
Dickenson said he joined the National Guard to pay for his college education and alleviate that financial burden from his family. He describes himself as a “small town guy,” and says he’s thankful the National Guard has given him a career that allows him to stay close to home.
“Over the years, I have enjoyed becoming the leader that I once had coming up [in the military],” Dickenson said. “I absolutely love to help out the community and to help our young ones prosper.”
He said he feels a kinship with those memorialized on the Wall.
“I know that I was never there with them, but to know I put on this uniform every day to make sure I do the best I can to uphold their honor and keep leading from the front of our country,” he said.
While the wall stood in Grundy for just a few days, Dickenson said it made for an excellent field trip for kids in his community to learn more about the sacrifices of America’s heroes, and it also made the impact of the wall more accessible.
“Some people are unable to travel to see the actual wall [in D.C.], so I think it is important to have this as an event in our local communities,” he explained. “It’s important because I do believe people are forgetting the sacrifices that local heroes in our communities did for us.”
Click to learn more about the Wall That Heals.