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You Can Visit The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Right Here In SoCal

People visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC on May 24, 2019. A half-size replica of the wall will be on display in Simi Valley through the Memorial Day weekend. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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This Memorial Day weekend, Southern Californians can pay their respects at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- without flying to Washington, D.C.

A Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall run by an Antelope Valley nonprofit will be on display at the Rancho Tapo Community Park in Simi Valley from Friday through Monday. This year marks a decade of the memorial traveling the region, giving local residents a space to learn and remember.

The mobile wall is about half the size of the one in D.C., explained Linda Willis, secretary for the AV Wall Board, which oversees the project.

Like the national wall, it is black and engraved with the names of those killed in the war. And like the national wall, the names are updated regularly as the Department of Defense releases status changes. At last count there were 58,318 names -- 5,572 from California and 76 from the mobile wall's home in Antelope Valley.

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You can see an overview of the wall in this video taken from the 2016 installation:

The idea for the mobile wall started with a play about Vietnam veterans at the Palmdale Playhouse. Willis said the group at first wasn't sure they'd be able to raise enough money to get it built, but after four years they had accumulated $102,000.

"When the fundraising began in earnest, it was just completely grassroots. The next thing you know, we had enough money to build this entire memorial wall," Willis said.

The all-volunteer team, which includes both veterans and civilians, transports the wall to each location where it will be displayed, setting up the 72 panels and staying on site to provide supervision.

Volunteers set up the mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall. (Courtesy of Linda Willis with AV Wall)

Seeing the wall can be healing for family members and veterans, Willis said, many of whom may not have the funds or time to travel to the national memorial in D.C., and while there are other traveling walls in the country, this is the only one based on the West Coast.

"We've had reunions at the wall, reunions of different companies and battalions -- they all meet and they honor their fallen," she said.

George Palermo is a Vietnam veteran and a member of the committee for the mobile wall. He knows the wall can also stir up difficult emotions. He said visiting a different traveling wall years ago brought back difficult memories of his own time serving in Vietnam.

"I felt like I was being sucked into that wall, and I felt like I fit in better with the guys whose names were on that wall than the people I'd been living with for 25 years," Palermo said.

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Now, Palermo gives his time, attending displays of the mobile wall to help other veterans processing their own feelings of trauma related to their military service.

"Since that time the wall's been part of my life, and whenever any wall -- even if it's not our wall -- whenever any wall is within reasonable driving distance to my house, I'm there."

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