Originally Published: March 16, 2015 6:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Darlene Sheker's first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was about three years after the unveiling of the black granite wall in the nation's Capitol.
She vividly remembers the impossible-to-harness sobs she shed when she found the name of her flesh-and-blood playmate, brother Gordon Matthews, 36.
The career United States Marine, who also served in Korea, was killed on Feb. 6, 1968, his first tour in Vietnam. Beyond his parents and four siblings, the Iowa-born, then-Norfolk, Virginia, resident left a widow, Marilyn, and their just adopted daughter, Karen.
"It still hurts to this day," the local grandmother said of her brother's death in a war tainted by politics such that soldiers were scorned at their homecomings and funerals.
More than 58,000 soldiers' names are engraved on the smooth, reflective stone wall - 1,200 whose fate is still unknown.
On March 19, Sheker will again trace her brother's name; this time on the Traveling Vietnam Wall, an American Veterans Traveling Tribute to be on public display at the Prescott Gateway Mall through March 22. The traveling wall, an 80 percent replica of the national monument, will arrive March 18, escorted from Mayer by Patriot Guard Riders.
Dorothy Morris will also make a sojourn to the Traveling Wall to honor her brother, U.S. Air Force Lt. Michael Andrew Miller of Tucson. His name on plate 28W is his headstone.
Miller's body was never recovered after his F-4 phantom fighter crashed Feb. 28, 1969, on a remote hillside near Da Nang. He'd just celebrated his 24th birthday.
The wall's public debut on March 19 is particularly significant to Morris. On that same date in 1970, her brother was declared killed in action, an official designation changed from a year prior when his family was notified he was missing in action.
Morris spent almost four decades seeking answers to her brother's ill-fated mission, one she gleaned from thousands of once-classified documents was a low-to-the-ground flight in hazy conditions that ended in a collision that vaporized the bomber. The missing-in-action status was initially offered so as to protect survivor benefits, Morris learned.
In 2007, Morris' family was finally able to honor his patriotism with an empty-grave funeral with a Missing Man Formation at Arlington Cemetery.
The shroud of mystery around his death, though, irrevocably harmed his family, Morris said.
"He never experienced all the joys and sorrows one should have in a lifetime," Morris said.
Vietnam Navy veteran Bill Springer, now disabled from Agent Orange-related cancer, said he is grateful he will be able to visit so he can again pay homage to fallen comrades.
The traveling wall "means so very much to Vietnam veterans in all stations of civilian life," said Springer, 60, assigned in the 1970s to a naval destroyer off the Vietnam coast.
"As for myself, it has come to mean that I finally have the opportunity to be present, to touch the names of friends who didn't return to the world, and to find a cleansing, a healing," Springer said.
Though he has never toured the Washington, D.C. memorial, Spring said seven years ago he went when it came to Payson.
The sight was a "totally life-transporting experience," he said.
"March 19-22 will be that time for me to again feel what has been built up inside, deep where no one is allowed to go," Springer said of the event that includes a Vietnam veterans-only ceremony at noon on Thursday, March 19.
"It will be my time to allow myself to grieve the past, remember the honor and celebrate the lives and contributions of these young men etched upon the wall," Springer said. "For a 'Tin-Can' sailor ... I will remember those who in the fullness of their promise as men gave their last full measure of devotion to their brothers, their family, our nation. Serving honorably and returning to the world has given me the responsibility to my fellow veterans; past, present and future."
Sheker's hope is no one misses this chance to pay long overdue respects.
"Come to the wall, see the wall," Sheker encouraged. "Respect the men who lost their lives and the ones who didn't. You have to remember them all. That's the reason we have freedom today."
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci