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Traveling Vietnam War memorial stirs emotions in Petaluma

  • Stephen Brown of Cotati is overcome by grief as he spots the names of friends who were killed during the Vietnam War. Brown was a helicopter pilot with the First Cavalry Division from 1969-70. He and hundreds of others visited the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam War memorial wall Friday in Petaluma. The wall is on display at Lucchesi Park until Sunday. (Kent Porter / PD)

Mike Woodd's brother surprised him with a visit to the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam War memorial wall Friday in Petaluma, and the Desert Storm veteran left the display with something priceless — a charcoal tracing of his birth father's name.

As a child, Woodd was placed up for adoption and never knew his biological father. He thought he died while serving in Vietnam, but wasn't sure of the details.

In the warm fall sun Friday, Woodd stood holding a white sheet of paper, its corners flickering in the breeze. He stared at his father's name: Michael W. North.

Traveling Vietnam War Memorial Wall

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Woodd was a little stunned, still processing the emotions of his discovery. He gently touched the outline of the name with his fingers.

“That's part of you,” said his brother, Mario DeCenso.

“Fear and loss, and sadness,” is what Woodd said he felt looking up the location of his father's name on the wall, a scale replica of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C

“And a little bit of closure, I guess,” he said as his wife, Olivia Purugganan, held his arm.

The wall, which tours the country with the help of veterans groups and donations, provides a catharsis for veterans, a place to come together and see old friends, and sometimes a starting place for a veteran who needs help.

A Department of Veterans Affairs trailer sat nearby, and pamphlets were available on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nearby, a woman traced the name of her teenage sweetheart, to whom she was engaged when he went off to war. She was too overcome with emotion to talk about it, but told organizers she was glad she came.

“That's OK. This is the place to cry,” said Steve Finkle, an Air Force veteran from Petaluma.

“This place brings it out,” he said, adding that such a display is more important today, when lessons about Vietnam aren't always taught in school.

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