By Matthew Kent | For the Daily Journal

People waved, held miniature U.S. flags and cheered along a parade route through downtown Columbus as a motorcade featuring the Moving Wall exhibit wound through the city on its way to the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds.

That’s where Thursday morning’s parade emptied, and where the half-scale display of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was assembled. It will be open to the public for free 24 hours a day through 10 a.m. Monday.

People came from near and far to be part of the experience.

Cathy Jones of nearby North Vernon and Jerry Grose of Tipton, nearly two hours north of Columbus, were among first-day visitors.

Grose said he visited the wall to locate the name of a friend, Greg Fennimore, one of 58,315 U.S. military fatalities from the decade-long American involvement in Southeast Asia, which began in 1965.

“It all comes down to respect,” Grose said, in paying tribute to his friend.

Columbus resident Charles Sheperd also said he wanted to pay his respects to the fallen.

“It’s kind of unbelievable how many names there are, the men and women who lost their lives,” Sheperd said.

Jim Huber, a Navy veteran from Columbus, came to the exhibit with his wife, Janet, who was a nurse in the Army.

Many Vietnam veterans were not respected when they returned to the United States from their tours of duty, Janet Huber recalled.

“It’s nice to see that, finally, they get recognized and honored,” she said.

More than 50 motorcyclists escorted a heavy-duty truck hauling a 24-foot trailer, on which pieces of the wall were transported.

As the parade route arrived at Second and Washington streets, near both Columbus City Hall and the Bartholomew County Courthouse, a few dozen city and county employees stepped outside of their workplaces in patriotic solidarity as motorcycle engines roared through downtown. Many of motorcycle drivers honked their horns in response.

Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman was among the streetside supporters, vowing to visit the exhibit this weekend.

Not far away, Columbus resident Charity Taylor stood outside The Commons with her 3-year-old son Parker, who waved a flag. Taylor’s grandfather served in Vietnam.

Columbus resident Carol Bachmann and her husband Jim, a Vietnam veteran, were among the motorcycle riders who gathered at the Sam’s Club parking lot Thursday morning, where the parade assembled.

Bachmann said she felt it was important to join the ride as a show of support for troops and the sacrifices they have made for their country.

“It’s special to help escort this wall,” she said.

Bachmann said she’s had a chance to visit the actual memorial in Washington, D.C., describing it as solemn.

She expects the Moving Wall exhibit will provide a similar experience.

“We consider it an honor to be here,” she said.

Taylorsville resident Dart Liebrandt, another motorcyclist, served in the Army National Guard for 32 years.

Liebrandt said he saw the full-size Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., 15 years ago and called it awe-inspiring.

The half-scale replica has been traveling the country since 1984, bringing the memorial experience to people who cannot travel to the nation’s capitol.

“Hopefully it reminds people of the commitment it takes to be free,” he said.

More than 15 volunteers helped construct the exhibit, which was delivered to Columbus by Kim Chen, who travels the country with her husband, Paul, transporting it to U.S. cities.

Chen said she enjoys seeing how communities come together through the exhibit, which is 254 feet long and contains 74 panels.

“Sometimes, it’s the first time for a Vietnam vet to heal,” she said. “It’s pretty gratifying to be able to share it.”

American Legion Post 24 in Columbus launched a campaign in December to raise nearly $64,000 to bring the exhibit to Bartholomew County.

Organizers are still seeking $4,000 to reach its fundraising goal, said Dempsey Ferguson, finance officer for the post.

Donations will be accepted throughout the five-day exhibit.

Connie West, a member of the American Legion Riders from Columbus Post 24, was among the volunteers helping to prepare the exhibit.

“It’s a big honor,” she said.

West was joined by Becky Pheral, a member of the American Region’s women’s auxiliary.

Her reason for helping was simple, she said.

“Just helping out my vets,” Pheral said. “Look at what they’ve done. They gave their lives for our freedom.”

IF YOU GO

What: The Moving Wall traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall exhibit

Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, 750 W. County Road 200 S, Columbus

Admission: Free, with donations being accepted

When: Open 24 hours a day Thursday through 10 a.m. Monday

Moving Wall daily schedule

Noon today: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, invocation by Brian Graves of Garden City Christian Church, remarks by Brig. Gen. Ronald A. Westfall, taps by Caleb Bray.

6 p.m. today: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Philharmonic Youth Orchestra Ensemble, remarks by Lt. Col. Cathleen A. Van Bree, benediction by military chaplain Reeves Flint, taps by American Legion Post 24 color guard.

Noon Saturday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by John Tasca, invocation by John Marquis of Central Heights Church of God, remarks by Col. Roger D. Peterman (retired), taps by Caleb Bray.

6 p.m. Saturday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, remarks by Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger (retired), benediction by John Sichting of New Hope Christian Church, taps by Caleb Bray.

Noon Sunday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, invocation by retired minister Jerry Curry, remarks by Lt. Col. Kenny Freeman (retired), taps by Caleb Bray.

6 p.m. Sunday: Special music by Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, national anthem by Rich Coffey, remarks by Staff Sgt. Michael Thompson, benediction by Dan Cash of First Baptist Church, three-volley salute and taps by American Legion Post 24 color guard