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Moving Wall to vets is looking for volunteeers

Art Kruckenberg his 10-year-old sAdam from Harvard Ill. search Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall for name friend Kruckenberg lost while

Art Kruckenberg and his 10-year-old son, Adam, from Harvard, Ill., search the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall for the name of a friend Kruckenberg lost while serving in the Vietnam War while the Wall was in Aurora. | FILE PHOTO

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When Ken Leask got out of the Navy back in 1954, he never had to buy drinks in bars or worry about hitching rides. Everyone, he remembers, was eager to support those who had served their country.

He also recalls how, a decade later, Vietnam veterans were treated so differently after returning from war.

“They were spit on … treated like garbage,” said the retired Aurora University professor. “Watching that really bothered me.”

That’s a big reason Leask signed on to be a volunteer for the Vietnam Moving Wall when it comes to Aurora Nov. 7 through 11 at West Aurora High School. He and wife Ingrid will help visitors locate names on The Wall of those who were killed.

“Those Vietnam vets,” Leask said, “need healing. This (memorial) gives them the recognition and appreciation they deserve.”

Steve Matesi could not agree more. The Vietnam War had begun to wind down when he registered for the draft at age 17, so he was never called. But the Sandwich man, now 57, knew those who served, including a good friend who was part of the evacuation of Saigon.

“It was a different war for America,” he said of that turbulent time. “We learned a lot since then.”

Matesi signed up to read a portion of the 58,282 names of those who died during that unpopular war, and also to help locate those names on The Wall. He’s doing so not only to honor Vietnam veterans, but all who served in the military, including his son who is in the Marines.

“There’s no better way,” he says, “to make use of our time.”

Volunteer Chris Hall, a 34-year-old home health care associate from Montgomery, is at least a generation removed from these two men, but his sense of duty is as intense.

Hall, who belongs to an international heavy metal club with a patriotic bent, said a Navy physical that determined he had asthma kept him from serving. But he comes from a strong military family, including his father, who was in the Air Force for 12 years and was shot down several times while dropping air supplies in Vietnam.

Hall says he was part of the opening ceremonies as a Cub Scout back in 1989, when the Vietnam memorial first came to the Fox Valley. His name shows up more than anyone’s so far on the volunteer list.

“And if I could,” he tells me, “I’d pitch a tent and help out the entire time. That’s how much it means to me.”

Hall sees helping out as “one of the best ways we can come together as a community.”

It’s a sentiment shared by fellow volunteer Phyllis Wells, a 73-year-old Aurora woman who also comes from a military background that includes her 85-year-old husband, who served in World War II. She is his full-time caregiver now, but still finds time to take part in 5k runs, and plans to give as many hours as possible to the memorial when it comes to Aurora in a couple weeks.

“It’s the very least we can do to help out,” she says, giving a nod to the committee that has worked hundreds of hours to make this tribute such a memorable and sacred experience.

Leask, Matesi, Hall and Wells are just a handful of residents who have already signed up to be readers, to help with grounds or first aid or to help visitors locate names on The Wall. But so many more are needed. And time is running short.

So how can you get involved?

Another sign-up day is scheduled for this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 104 of the Prisco Community Center, 150 W. Illinois Ave. in Aurora. And here’s an important point to consider: All it takes is a few minutes to put your name on the list and find out what you need to do. The average amount of time, says committee member and the city’s Assistant Chief of Staff Chuck Nelson, is a mere 10 minutes. Leask confirmed he and his wife were in and out of the center in less than a half hour when they signed up in September.

Like all volunteer efforts, helping out will give back more than you are giving. If you plan to see this spectacular memorial anyway, why not schedule a volunteer hour along with that visit? For more information, go to www.vietnammovingwallaurora.org.

Phyllis Wells not only plans to help out over the four-day event, she’s trying to convince those in her circle to join that effort, including her McDonald’s coffee group and her handyman.

“If you are healthy and able to do it,” she insists, “then you need to do it.”



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