MINERAL WELLS (CBSDFW.COM) – The thousands who lost their lives in Vietnam are forever memorialized on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
There is also a growing memorial for Vietnam vets in North Texas that is every bit as moving. Those behind it know first hand what that war was like.
The National Vietnam War Museum is right off Highway 180, heading into Mineral Wells, with a Bell UH-1 helicopter, or Huey, at its entrance. The museum includes a quiet, wide-open space, with a meditation garden, a number of moving memorials, a visitor’s center and a memorial wall.
The wall itself is a favorite place for volunteer groundskeeper, and retired Vietnam Army helicopter pilot, Gary Salsisbury to share with visitors.
“We’ll get up close and the person will say, ‘Do you feel that? Do you feel it?” says Salsisbury.
The same is true for the museum’s president, former Army Chief Warrant Officer Jim Messinger.
“The meaning for me is over there on that black and white wall. Our replica. We built this place for them.”
Both men were among the 40 thousand who learned to fly helicopters just a mile away, at Fort Wolters. Mineral Wells was home to the army’s primary helicopter school from 1957-1973. Most new pilots were shipped off to Vietnam. Some returned to Mineral Wells, and a small band of Vietnam brothers brought their dream of this memorial to life in 2007.
The Vietnam Wall that they built is roughly half the size of the one in Washington D.C. But outside of the size difference, everything else, is exactly the same, including the spot CBS 11’s Doug Dunbar found his father’s name on panel 32w, line 37.
Former Army Command Sgt. Major Hayward Bellah says this place isn’t about choosing a side.
“We’re not here to promote the Vietnam War,” he says. “We’re here to tell and educate people about the Vietnam War. From the Vietnamese standpoint, the U.S. standpoint, the college standpoint. All of em’.”
The hope is to eventually build a much bigger and more formal home for displays, the current visitors center is government surplus.
Museum president Jim Messinger may be around to see it. He tried to quit six years ago, but he says somebody has to do it.
If you want to visit, the National Vietnam War Museum is right off Highway 80, about 4 miles east of downtown Mineral Wells.
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