Michigan Vietnam Memorial Wall displayed in Lake County

WEBBER TWP. — Hundreds of motorcycles and other vehicles crammed the streets of Baldwin on May 14, but it wasn't for the weekend's celebration of Blessing of the Bikes.

These bikers were escorting the Michigan Vietnam Memorial Wall to AMVETS Post No. 1988, where it was on display on May 15 through May 17.

The wall lists the names of the thousands of Michigan natives who were killed or missing in action during the Vietnam War. Like the national Vietnam monument in Washington D.C., their names are etched in the wall for all to come and see.

"The wall was started to help veterans deal with the bad feelings from fighting and losing their buddies," said organizer and Vietnam veteran Bill Ricketts. "It took me 35 years to be able to talk about Vietnam. Since doing this, I'm able to talk and help others talk. It's all about getting the demon off your back."

Bringing the wall to Lake County was the work of the AMVETS Riders of Post No. 1988. They hoped bringing the wall into the community during Blessing of the Bikes would allow for a maximum number of people to be able to see the wall and understand how important it can be.

"This is something AMVET Riders 1988 have been working on for several months," said John Duvall, head of the group and chief organizer of the display. "There are a lot of riders who are veterans or who have family who are. We knew this would be a big draw for people while they were here for Blessing of the Bikes, and maybe a lot of good could be done."

Those who organized bringing the wall to Lake County all agreed the most important aspect of the wall was how it allowed so many to heal old wounds.

"Our Vietnam veterans were never treated properly when they came home," said Duvall. "Every time you can heal those wounds, especially when you have things like the escort today, it's very emotional. They're getting the welcome home they never got when they returned from war."

Vietnam veteran Jim Dood rode in the escort to bring the wall into the community and has taken part in several wall escorts in the past when it has gone all over the state for display.

"Any time you see it or take part in something like the escort today, it's part of the healing process," remarked Dood. "I think every Michigan veteran should see it at least once. The first time I did this was in Grand Rapids and the wall was running late, so we formed a human wall. To see so many people and know they all went through the same things you did ... it was very hard to describe."

The procession drew many others besides those who actually served in Vietnam. Gary Essenberg rode with several members of the Muskegon chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Association to bring the wall to Lake County. He finds helping this project, in whatever way he can, helps honor those who have and continue to serve.

"I didn't serve, but my brothers did, my father was held in a German prison camp, my granddaughter is in the Marines and my grandson is going into the Air Force," said Essenberg. "I find this to be a good way to support them."

Duvall hoped those who weren't able to see the wall during Blessing of the Bikes would be able to see the wall at future events so they can understand its importance.

"You can hear a number, but until you see the amount of names up there in front of you, you can't comprehend the amount of people who never came back," said Duvall. "Plus, for the veterans to be able to touch the names of those they knew and lost can be a huge healing event for them."