‘The Wall That Heals’ Vietnam veterans memorial visits the Diocese of Knoxville

Bishop Stika delivers remarks, Benediction at public event to mark the mobile tribute’s stopover           

By Dan McWilliams

Bishop Richard F. Stika spoke at and gave the Benediction for a ceremony April 21 at “The Wall That Heals,” a traveling three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., that arrived in Knoxville that week.

The wall came to Lynnhurst Cemetery on April 19 and remained there until April 24.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, and U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett of Knoxville were among the dignitaries attending the ceremony, along with dozens of veterans. Capt. Bill Robinson of the U.S. Air Force, retired, was the keynote speaker.

In his closing talk, Bishop Stika said, “I think we pray today and every day for the gift of peace. We pray for those who are survivors but especially for the families who have lost loved ones.”

Bishop Stika prayed that “as we gather together as brothers and sisters this day, as we see this wall of healing that reminds us that people gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we might be able to gather together here in this place and places throughout the world to celebrate the gift of freedom, we pray that they may be at peace, that their sins may be forgiven, their gift of life and kindness may be rewarded. May those who look upon these names in this particular memorial be so moved to be people also of gratitude, where they might not know the names on this wall but surely they celebrate the gift that they have been given, the gift of freedom.”

Capt. Robinson is the longest surviving enlisted prisoner of war in American history, spending more than seven years in captivity.

“I am honored to join you today in this tribute to our veterans,” he said in his keynote. “With respect and gratitude, we simply say thank you. Without veterans, there would be no United States of America. They answered our nation’s call and by their service have kept America strong, protected our way of life, and preserved the freedom we enjoy today.”

Capt. Robinson added that “the stories of service and sacrifices of our Vietnam veterans and families we hope will be long remembered. Some lived out a full life after their service, living the American dream. Others had their lives shortened from the scars of war. The ones on this wall gave their tomorrows so ‘we the people’ could enjoy ours. We honor them. We thank them. Most important, we remember them and their families.”

The captain paraphrased John 15:13.

“‘No greater love does one have than to lay down his life for another.’ No one here set out to be heroes,” he said. “Our country called. We answered that call and proudly served, doing our part for a free world while fighting those who would enslave mankind.”

More than 7 million families “carry the scars of the Vietnam War today,” Capt. Robinson said.

“Many wait every day for a full accounting of their sons, husbands, brothers, fathers, family members, and friends to come home,” he said. “We as a nation must never give up that fight until all are accounted for.”

Bishop Stika had attended a similar ceremony when the wall previously visited Knoxville.

“A few years ago, I was able to lead a prayer and visit with people and just be touched by all the names, but not so much just the names, the lives behind those names, and the family members and such,” he said. “To sit next to Capt. Robinson, a hero, today was an immense honor for me.”

The thousands of names on the traveling wall make an impact, Bishop Stika said.

“Having never served in war or a battle and only watched war movies on TV, a lot of times those movies are for entertainment,” he said. “Here you see the reality of the situation. My brother Bob, who was in Vietnam, never spoke about the war, which is so true for so many veterans because you can’t imagine the horrors of what that’s like. He’s 10 years older than me. In September he’ll be 75.”

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