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.