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"I have friends whose names are on that wall": Vietnam War memorial comes to SLO

A replica of Washington DC’s Vietnam Memorial is coming to the Central Coast this week. It’s meant to be a source of healing for local Vietnam veterans as well as education for the general public.

The memorial replica is called The Wall That Heals, and it will be at the Madonna Inn Meadows until Sunday. It’ll bear over 58,000 names of people who died in the Vietnam war, just like the original memorial in DC.

Bart Topham is the Director of the Central Coast Veterans Memorial Museum and a fellow Vietnam combat veteran. Topham said visiting war memorials like this always makes him emotional.

“I have friends whose names are on that wall and I etched their names and saved those etchings,” Topham said.

In 1965 the first American combat troops entered the Vietnam War. Topham said when soldiers returned home they weren’t always met with open arms. There was a strong anti-Vietnam war movement at the time.

“It was a time when veterans weren't welcome,” Topham said.

Topham hopes this replica will give Central Coast veterans the closure they need.

CHP and San Luis Obispo Police Department escort "The Wall That Heals" into SLO.
CHP and San Luis Obispo Police Department escort "The Wall That Heals" into SLO.

“The things we faced together really can't be explained unless you're another veteran,” Topham said.

Out of the nearly-60,000 fallen soldiers, Topham said about 200 of them were from the Central Coast and will be honored at the memorial.

“We could spend a lot of time talking about the pros and cons of the conflict. They certainly did in my time when I was there, but that's not the issue. We're not really honoring the war, we're honoring the warrior,” Topham said.

More than 50,000 veterans live across San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties. Topham said at least a third are Vietnam veterans.

Along with the memorial, Topham said a mobile education center will be by the wall to educate those who want to learn more about the Vietnam War.

The Wall That Heals will be available for viewing 24 hours a day starting Thursday at 10 AM at the Madonna Inn Meadows. Admission and parking is free.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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