May 1, 2017
Prior to the opening ceremony, a long line of representatives from more than 80 military and civic groups placed colorful flowered wreaths along the 288-foot-long wall during steady rainfall.MELBOURNE — The framed photo of smiling U.S. Army Specialist Richard John Key laid on display between a quartet of small U.S. flags beneath Panel W21 of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, where his name is etched on Line 53.
The Louisiana native was only 19 when he was killed by gunfire on July 3, 1969, in the Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam. Nearly a half-century later, the late combat engineer's photo is on display at Wickham Park at the memorial wall, where the first mourners have also placed a bouquet of peace lilies and a coffee can filled with red roses.
Monday night, hundreds of somber spectators flocked to the jet-black wall during the opening ceremony of the 30th annual Florida Vietnam and All Veterans Reunion. Drab gray skies and rainfall mixed with occasional rumblings of thunder, and most spectators congregated beneath three park pavilions to stay dry.
"It's the first step in the healing process of burdens guys have been carrying, or family members have been carrying, for over 50 years," said Doc Russo, traveling wall manager and reunion chairman.
"They may have lost comrades. They may have lost family members. And every place I go — not just here — it helps them lift a big burden. I mean, I have friends that it took me 15 years to get them to come out here to the wall. And now, they're out here volunteering because they have buddies on the wall that they lost," Russo said.
The veterans reunion begins Thursday afternoon. An array of weekend activities kicks off with a massing of the colors and helicopter landing at 11 a.m. Saturday. The closing ceremony begins at 5 p.m. Sunday.
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