The Wall That Heals

Veterans Find Healing in Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall Stopping in Garland

The Wall That Heals is on display now through March 1 at Audubon Park in Garland.

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A replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. is traveling through America as we speak.

This week, the monument is officially making a stop in Garland, the only North Texas city to host the wall this year. The half-scale replica and exhibit travels every year and is made possible by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

While it honors the 3 million Americans who served in the Vietnam War, the wall is doing much more than just bearing the 58,276 names of those fallen.

It has a fitting name: The Wall That Heals.

That's because for local veterans, this is a form of therapy to cope with the trauma they experienced 50 years ago.

Army veterans Jose Martinez and Eddie Reyes of Dallas sat down with NBC 5 to share their story of survival in the Vietnam War and the emotional toll it has taken on their lives.

“They aren’t names. They were real people. Someone’s son, husband, father. That was somebody," Reyes said.

Young soldiers

The men, now 71, were each just 19 years old when they were deployed to Vietnam.

Reyes said because he knew he was going to be drafted, he felt like his life was on hold. He didn't date and wouldn't make big plans for a job. He made the decision to volunteer himself before he was ever drafted.

"Most of us have never been away from home. It was an adventure, an apprehensive adventure," Reyes said. "We had never been exposed to that, never been on an airplane."

The two grew up miles from each other in Dallas and fought in the same war, but didn't meet and become friends until just two years ago.

"That was my experience at a very young age -- nervous, depressing," Martinez said. "But at the time, my dad had been in World War II and he told me, 'Everything you do, do it right the first time, but remember what you learned because you’re going to need it when you get to Vietnam.'"

The men went through only six months of training before deployment.

“And by that time, you already heard so many war stories," said Reyes. "My boot camp drill sergeant told us to take a look around, he wanted us to see all of each other. And he said, 'Because in six months, half of you are going to be dead.'”

Reyes said they were even told to write their own obituary.

“We couldn’t even spell obituary. We didn’t know what to say but we had to turn it in," he said.

Arrival in Vietnam

The men lost friends in the war. They nearly lost their lives.

Martinez landed in Caml Ranh Bay, Vietnam in the spring of 1968. After two weeks of training, he was sent to his unit.

"It was cloudy, rainy drizzling. I was depressed and scared, not knowing where I was going," he said.

Martinez spoke about his first time being shot at while hiking through a rural area.

“We were crossing some rice patties and then machine gun fire came down. And I was never more scared in my life," Martinez reflected. "I froze and a guy kicked me in the rear and told me, 'Get used to it I’m going home in 30 days.' And unfortunately my brother, he got killed seven days later."

Reyes was deployed a year and a half later than Martinez to an area further south, full of swamps. He was wounded in his seventh month of combat.

That was also the moment he lost friend from his platoon, a fellow Texan named Danny Robinett.

"Friendly fire had hit us, I saw dirt flying. And Danny got hit," he said. “They tell you in boot camp when you’re wounded, don’t look at your wound. No matter how minor it is because you’re going to go into shock and die.”

Finding peace after the war

After a year in battle, the men said they felt ostracized when they returned home.

But time has healed some wounds.

The traveling wall helps them and other veterans cope with their PTSD and the emotions they still battle within themselves.

“To me, it heals me. I cry in the background for my brothers that are on that wall. And I always said to myself, 'What about me being on that wall?'" Martinez said. "It does a lot for me. It soothes my soul and gives me a little closure.“

The two veterans started a nonprofit called Brothers of Vietnam, where they hope to cover the costs to help send other veterans to the memorial wall in D.C. to find the same healing they've experienced.

“We served our country, I’m proud to be a veteran and an American," said Martinez.

They said they're thankful for The Wall That Heals to make a stop in North Texas again this year so that they can continue that healing process.

“That’s an internal question. Why not me?" said Reyes. "And so in the beginning, I would go to the wall and ask for forgiveness. Did I earn this? Over time, I decided that OK, I’ve been granted absolution. Now I say it was an honor to have known them.”

Details: "The Wall That Heals"

The wall is open to the public 24/7 and will be accessible until this Sunday at 2 p.m. The wall is located at Audubon Park on West Oates Road in Garland.

Along with the wall, there is also a mobile education center at the site in Garland with a display showing the names of more than 300 Dallas County veterans who died.

Schools are encouraged to bring their classes to the exhibit.

The wall travels every year across the United States. Its next stop is in Del Rio, Texas next week. Click here for a full schedule.

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