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News | Nov. 15, 2022

More Than Mere Names

By Lt. Col. Elizabeth Behring and Staff Sgt. John L. Cakeet IV, 75th Innovation Command 75th Innovation Command

ANAHUAC, Texas – When Master Sgt. Kisha S. White, the 75th Innovation Command’s Military Equal Opportunity Advisor, heard the Wall that Heals would be on display near Houston, she jumped at the chance to volunteer.

White, a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, was the keynote speaker at the closing ceremonies of the Wall that Heals-Chambers County, Oct. 30, one of the last stops out of the 29 communities selected this year by the Vietnam War Memorial Fund.

The Wall that Heals, which finished its 27th season Nov. 10, is a traveling exhibition that includes a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. At 350 feet long, and with its largest panel 7.5 feet high, this synthetic granite structure bears the names of the 58,281 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.

"Their future was cut short, their hopes and dreams along with it,” White said to an audience of more than 800 veterans, families and volunteers. "And the families of those who didn’t return – whose names are etched on the Wall – experienced the painful loss of a loved one without the collective support of their nation … I encourage everyone here to join us in righting the wrong of honoring our heroes who stand with us today and the ones on the wall who made the ultimate sacrifice."

White, who in her civilian role is a Special Project Manager with Harris County in Texas, has been Active Duty and the Army Reserve 29 years. Though she had spoken to larger audiences before, White said she volunteered to speak at the closing ceremonies to not only “get out of my comfort zone, but to pay tribute to those who served and sacrificed before her.”

Loretta Emmons, the co-chair for the Wall that Heals-Chambers County, formed the organization in August 2021 with the sole purpose of bringing the exhibit to Anahuac. It took Emmons and her committee 15 months to retrieve the exhibit, but only one day – Oct. 26 – for her and 40 fellow volunteer to erect it.

An estimated 4,500 people toured the wall in the days it was up in Anahuac, including about 900 students, Emmons said.

“This is a big commitment, and it was my first time doing a project of this size and scope, but we had a great committee and hundreds of volunteers. Everybody had a job, and they all did it,” Emmons said.

Emmons recalled bittersweet displays of grief and solitude as veterans and relatives looked and touched the names of lost friends and loved ones.

“[Some] veterans would stencil names of friends and comrades they lost. One veteran was clearly distraught he could not remember all the names of the friends who died on the same day and who are immortalized on the same panel,” Emmons said.

Between these poignant moments, Emmons and White remarked on one rewarding aspect: veterans having the chance to bond with other veterans, of all components, eras, and experiences.

“It was clear they felt appreciated, and you could see that they needed that. It was sad how they were treated after Vietnam. But this whole week was special: the Vietnam War Memorial Fund completed a 20-year project in August 2022 [the Wall of Faces], where there is at least one photo of every person listed on the wall,” Emmons said.

A local Congressman handed out about 800 pins to the Vietnam veterans, some of whom came as far away as Louisiana, who were present at the closing ceremony, or to a family member or friend in their stead. White’s 17-year-old daughter received a pin on behalf of her grandfather.

During her speech, White mentioned the 75th Innovation Command’s role in moving the Army into the future by honoring the past.

“It is important to know where we come from. It is OK to change and adapt; in fact, it is what we are doing at the 75th Innovation Command. We are built upon institutions of solid traditions and merits of those who are still here or no longer here. It is up to us to continue this great tradition of service, while the Army continues to adapt as a warfighting organization,” White said.

Before the closing ceremonies, White took a closer look at the panel. As she waited her turn alongside hundreds of attendees, White said she realized she stood amongst living family members, friends and Vietnam veterans themselves, who were having semi-private moments as they discovered specific names on the wall.

“It made the intangible, tangible,” White said. “These are not just random names on the wall; these are people who had lives, who made an impact, who had people who love and miss them. Their legacy should not ever be forgotten, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my support in every way I can.”