Vietnam wall to bring a slice of history to French Lick

It’s a little piece of Washington, D.C., and it’s headed for French Lick.

Check that: Make it a big piece.

From Nov. 9 through 12, the AVTT (American VeteransTraveling Tribute) Traveling Vietnam Wall will make a stop at the French Lick Resort. At its temporary home in the front lawn of the French Lick Casino, it’ll be impossible to miss: 360 feet in length, 8 feet tall, and filled with the names of all 58,000-plus American service men and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam War.

Viewing of the touring wall is free to the public, and it’ll be accessible 24 hours a day and lit through the night. Rubbing sheets will also be provided for guests to etch names from the wall onto paper.

There are actually a handful of traveling Vietnam walls touring the USA, and the AVTT Wall coming to French Lick Resort is the largest at 80 percent scale. A different Vietnam touring wall – a 50 percent scale model – stopped at French Lick in 2000, and judging from that attendance 17 years ago, expect this newer, bigger model to stir some interest. 

“We had a great turnout for that, so expect a lot of people (this year),” said Steve Wininger with the French Lick American Legion Post 76.

Some of the pageantry will begin a day early on the midafternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 8, when the wall rolls into town on its route up State Road 145. The processional will include a brigade of nearly 150 motorcycles as the wall is ushered into the resort around 3 p.m., during which time State Road 56 will be briefly closed to east/west traffic.

The wall will be erected the morning of Thursday, Nov. 9, and will be officially open for viewing around noon that day. It'll be up for more than 72 hours of round-the-clock display until 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. There will also be search stations set up, for visitors to have a road map of sorts if they’re seeking a particular name on the touring wall, which replicates the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – Washington D.C.’s No. 1 most visited monument.

“This is pretty awe-inspiring,” said Kevin Weatherly, the AVTT’s CEO. “To put it in perspective, if we set it up on a football field, it’s going to sit at the 50-yard line, dead center, and both ends are going to go almost to each goal post. And then at 8 feet tall, and it tapers down like the wall in D.C.”

The last full day of the wall’s display (Saturday, Nov. 11) also coincides with Veteran’s Day, and the local American Legion is planning a brunch for veterans and their families from 9 to 11 a.m. that day.

Weatherly said to expect an influx of folks who want to view the wall – and not just from the local people who want to get their glimpse, but because there’s a faction of people who tour the country to follow the wall wherever it goes. “We’ve had people drive from several hours out to come see it,” Weatherly said. “It’s very popular for people from outside the community.”

If you’re inclined to check out the wall, it’s a good idea to act now while it’s in our backyard.

The AVTT wall has visited Indiana before, but of the stops it’s made on the 2017 touring schedule, Tennessee is the closest it’s been prior to the forthcoming stop in French Lick. Making a visit to a rural community of 1,700 is also a bit of a deviation, since the cities where it’s displayed are typically in the 25,000 to 100,000 range. 

So catch it while you can.

“It’s pretty moving to stand before it and know there’s 58,317 names before you that all gave their lives to their country,” Weatherly said. “It’s definitely something that people should come out and see and be a part of. Nobody ever regrets coming out and seeing it.”