s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Traveling Vietnam War memorial stirs emotions in Petaluma


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.

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.

One woman brought her 10-month-old son Friday. Schools brought entire classes to learn about the war.

Joe Noriel, the former Petaluma Historical Museum association president, helped bring the wall to Petaluma with his group, History Connection.

At a time when warfare is waged differently from how it was in Vietnam, he said, the wall can be a teaching experience for students who have known only wars with precision missiles and drone strikes ordered from far-off places, not close-quarters combat.

The wall displays 58,263 names of men and eight women killed in the war. More than 5,500 of them were from California, the most of any state, and 103 of those came from Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties.

Of those killed, 14,095 were 19 years old. Just over 22,000 were age 19 to 21.

Noriel said he wanted to honor Korean War veterans as well, a group that isn't as vocal or visible as World War II and Vietnam War vets groups.

Korean War vet Paul Lewis shared brief memories of all three Petalumans killed during the fighting in Korea: Robert A. Baur, George Joseph Poe and Joseph R. Mendonca.

"They were all 1950s high school guys," he said, who all left family in Petaluma, most of whom are gone now.

"I can't help but think as I sit here today looking at this wall, that some 58,000-some young men are not here," he said. "I'm one of the lucky ones."

The traveling memorial, an 80 percent scale of the Washington wall that is 360 feet long, is on display at Petaluma's Lucchesi Park through Sunday.

Today, there will be presentations by members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, military men and women who received the Purple Heart medal for wounds suffered in combat. Sunday will highlight the service of women in Vietnam.

Ceremonies begin each day at 1 p.m. with the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. The bloodmobile from Blood Center of the Pacific will be on site from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

The exhibit remains open until the 4 p.m. closing ceremonies Sunday.

Korean War veteran Patrick Synan and his significant other, Patricia DeBernardi of Sebastopol, visited a POW/MIA display Friday.

Synan was an Irish citizen living in Australia when he fought in Korea. After he moved to the U.S., he was drafted into the Army in 1954, after the war ended. He became an American citizen when he was being prepared to be shipped overseas.

He became emotional thinking of his buddies.

"I guess you never forget," he said. "And these guys went through more than we did."

Synan remains active in the Disabled Veterans of America group in Santa Rosa.

Woodd said he probably will display the tracing of his father's name with his own military awards he received in the Marine Corps.

It has inspired him to investigate exactly what his father had done in the service: "I'm going to find out about it."

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.