Franco-American veteran visits The Wall That Heals

GARDINER, Me-  Appreciation must be extended to the Friends of Christ Church, in Gardiner, for supporting The Wall That Heals exhibit. Thoughtful volunteers from Christ Church worked  with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation (VVMF) to bring the important travelling exhibit, on July 20-22, to display in the beautiful Gardiner Common.  My husband Richard is a Vietnam Veteran. He served with the Seabees MCB 71 in Chu Lai and again on the USS Intrepid when it was in the Gulf of Tonkin.  As a Franco-American veteran, he joined with hundreds of others from Maine and other states, who visited the exhibit while it was in Gardiner. Being there, on the quiet grassy mall with hundreds of other people, was an emotional experience and gave us the time to reflect about the human losses during the Vietnam War.

Richard L'Heureux MCB 71 Chu Lai

Richard L’Heureux, USN, Chu Lai Vietnam 1967 at Camp Shields with the Seabees MCB 71

The Wall That Heals is a travelling history memorial. The excellent exhibits include a replica of the Memorial Wall, as it is in Washington DC, along with accompanying newsreels about the history. Trained volunteers are available to offer support and information to those who have questions about the exhibits. This travelling memorial provides important reminders about how America continues to welcome the Vietnam Veterans home. Tragically, these veterans did not receive the recognition of being welcomed, during the time when they risked their lives and were separated from their families, during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) .

A nursing colleague of mine spoke about this harsh experience in his narrative published in “Maine Nursing: Interviews and History on Caring and Competence“.  Phil Myers is a nurse veteran who remembered, “When I came back from Vietnam, I walked off the plane in Waterville, Maine. My wife was living with our two children in Waterville, which is where she’s from. I had never seen my second daughter. Tracy, she was three months old. I walked off the plane. There was nobody there! And I’m talking about nobody! There was not a single soul at the airport. The plane landed, the door opened, I got off.  It was one of those little DC-3 kind of jobbers from Boston. It was 10 o’clock at night. There was zero people. No cars parked there. I got my stuff and I walked into the terminal.  My wife showed up a few minutes later, she had a couple of little kids and I understood that….”

Observing the hundreds of people who came to Gardiner to visit The Wall That Heals was one way to recover after those lost moments, when nobody was there to welcome the Vietnam Veterans home. Yet, some Maine memorials can be found. Don Levesque is a Vietnam Veteran and a Franco-American, who sent links of pictures taken of the memorials located in Van Buren, Maine.

Vietnam Memorial in Van Buren Maine

Vietnam Memorial in Van Buren Maine sent to me by Don Levesque.

In Lewiston’s Veterans Memorial park, located at Grand Falls, shows a special granite marker, dedicated to the Vietnam Veterans.

Grand Falls Lewiston Vietnam Memorial

Vietnam Memorial granite stone in Lewiston Maine at Grand Falls. (L’Heureux photograph)

At The Wall That Heals, the name of Victor M. Plourde on Panel 46W, Line 53 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of the names of the Maine causalities of the Vietnam War. He was from Oakland, Maine.

Victor Plourde

Victor M. Plourde of Oakland recognized at The Wall That Heals at the Gardiner Maine exhibit.

A few years ago, my husband and I enjoyed a visit to Vietnam, where we experienced the country’s French colonial heritage and saw how the people have worked hard to create a prosperous economy, since the end of the war. Talking about the Vietnam War is a generational subject, as only those who were there at the time will talk about what it was like. We walked around in the old city of Saigon, in the section  where colonial French architecture still stands.  We visited the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral located in the heart of the city’s municipal square. Established by French colonists who initially named it Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. Today, there is little evidence about the Vietnam War to be seen in Ho Chi Minh City.

Richard and Juliana inside the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame

In Saigon, the French section of Ho Chi Minh city, inside the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame.

A visit to The Wall That Heals brought to mind the lived experiences of the Vietnam War era. We solemnly remembered how this difficult period in American history impacted Maine’s Veterans and our families. Franco-American Veterans are included in that history.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.