Petaluma Vietnam veteran Dick Sharke hopes a Vietnam War memorial wall can help teach young people about the sacrifices of war and the men and women who gave their lives for their country.
The American Veterans Traveling Tribute traveling wall, a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., arrived Wednesday afternoon and will be on display through the weekend at Petaluma's Lucchesi Park.
The 80-percent-scale, 360-foot replica of the memorial in the capital contains the names the more than 58,000 Americans who died in the war, including about five dozen from Sonoma County.
Sharke, who spent 21 years in the military and also served in the Korean War, said when the Petaluma Historical Museum's exhibit "The Vietnam Experience: A Soldier's Story," was displayed in 2010, he met many children who hadn't learned much about the war in school.
"We want to make this a teaching experience," he said Wednesday. "The kids can come and listen to some of the things the veterans have to say."
Viewing the wall, the largest of such traveling replicas, has been described as very emotional experience, said Joe Noriel, former museum association president.
"I see this as an amazing educational opportunity for the younger generation to learn about the sacrifices made by these men and woman in Vietnam," he said. "Visitors to the wall will be changed forever. They say 'you touch the wall and the wall touches you.' "
Ceremonies begin at 1 p.m. Thursday and continue through Sunday evening. The wall will be lit 24 hours a day with volunteers on the grounds at all times.
A computer database will be available to look up the names of those soldiers memorialized on the wall. It will provide the location of the soldier's name and biographical information about him, Sharke said.
Noriel said the tribute, sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of American 563 and the History Connection, helps honors the 15 Petaluma men who died in the war. The city recently rededicated a plaque commemorating the men after it was stolen from its base at Walnut Park.
The ceremonies will also honor women's service during the war.
"It's important to remember 265,000 women served during the Vietnam War, and all of them were volunteers," Noriel said. "Ten thousand women served within combat alongside their brother soldiers."
Ceremonies over the four days include speakers, a POW/MIA presentation, a Petaluma High School choir performance, World War II and Korean War veterans recognition, and a display of the Native Sons of the Golden West's largest American Flag in Sonoma County.
The Texas-based American Veterans Traveling Tribute wall is a nonprofit agency funded by sponsorships, merchandise sales and donations.
For a full schedule of events in Petaluma, visit www.historyconnection.net.
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)