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By Dyann Espinosa

For the Argus-Courier

Late Thursday evening, Henriette Lillund crossed the broad lawn at Lucchesi Park and approached the traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on display there. After a short search she found her husband's name: Major William A. Lillund.

She bent to touch it, then held paper to the wall to create a rubbing. She said quietly, "It's still so hard. It's hard to come here."

Her husband, a decorated member of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, and pilot Major Morris L. McDaniel were on a bombing mission on Oct. 4, 1967 in North Vietnam when their plane was lost and the men were presumed dead.

A small cross before Lillund and McDaniel's names on the wall indicates that they were declared missing in action, or MIA, and their final resting place has never been discovered. Lillund's siblings have donated samples of their DNA that would confirm his identity in the event that his remains are found.

The wall's journey to Petaluma and the ceremonies during the weekend were made possible through the efforts of local veterans chapters, private and public groups, and History Connection, a local nonprofit that focuses on bringing history-themed events to Petaluma.

In the tumultuous 60s, the Vietnam War polarized the country, pitting friends and families against each other. But in those visiting the travelling wall over the weekend, a genuine empathy was apparent for the men and women who fought in that war and the conflicts that followed.

The memorial wall, which arrived in Petaluma on Wednesday, Oct. 9 and stayed through Sunday, was a physical touchstone for families and friends of fallen loved ones.

At dusk on Thursday, Sgt. First Class and Petaluman Jimmy Pera, currently serving in the military after four years in the 75th Ranger Regiment and 11 years as a Green Beret, looked for comrades and relatives on the wall. He was there with his wife Lisa, her son Jaycob Fowler, and Jimmy's father, James R. Pera. They stopped to rub an impression of the names on a piece of paper.

James Pera was with the 1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam and remembers learning to fight a "guerilla" war in the steamy jungles.

"The war was one of surprise, brutality and never-ending tension, fought in hostile and unfamiliar territory where you hardly ever saw the enemy," said Pera. "We never knew if it was one or one hundred men we were facing."

The three generations of the Pera family are united in their determination to serve their country through the military, with Jaycob Fowler, who is 19, ready to take his place in the ranks once he is out of school.

Teen cadets from the Civil Air Patrol were also on hand, volunteering for the event and helping visitors locate friends and relatives on the wall. The uniformed cadets camped out on the grounds of Lucchesi Park under the supervision of Major Anthony Hammill, Deputy Commander for Cadets.

Cadet Senior Airman Amy Brazil, a 17-year-old student at Petaluma High School, also volunteered when the wall came to Sonoma in 2012.

"This is my second year helping out," said Brazil. "I get a feeling of happiness in a sense, when I see how glad people are when they've found the name they were searching for."

The cadets often hear personal stories that visitors share and they take them to heart.

"It's sad when someone has lost a friend or relative," reflects Brazil, "But I appreciate what the people on this wall have done for their country. We wouldn't have our freedom without them."

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscourier.com.)