Newly Renovated Vietnam Veterans Memorial Replica Dedicated in Georgia

Meagan Danley helps her son, William, touch the name of his great-grandfather, William Callinan, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica wall in Columbus, Ga.
Meagan Danley helps her son, William, touch the name of his great-grandfather, William Callinan, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica wall at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Ga., on Friday, March 29, 2024. (Natrice Miller/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Five-month-old William Danley wore blue corduroy overalls with a white shirt and red-tipped socks to the National Infantry Museum. His family dressed him in those patriotic colors for National Vietnam War Veterans Day, which fell on Good Friday.

They visited the museum for the dedication of a newly renovated replica Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. It bears the name of William's great-grandfather, Maj. William Callinan, along with more than 58,000 other U.S. service members who died or were reported missing during the war.

An Army aviator, Callinan was killed in a helicopter crash on Nov. 11, 1966, after helping rescue and resupply besieged friendly forces in Vietnam's central highlands. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism.

Three generations of his family attended Friday's ceremony. The infant's mother, Meagan Danley of Columbus, cradled him in her arms as she watched the ceremony beside her husband, Mike, and their three other children, Charles, Zoe and Jack.

"For all of our kids, we wanted them to think of him and remember him and say his name," Meagan Danley said of her grandfather. "We just wanted to keep his memory alive and for our kids to consider the sacrifice. Today being Good Friday, it is kind of a beautiful thing with remembering people who have given everything for us to be able to live the lives we live."

Like the original memorial wall in Washington D.C., the replica features the names of Vietnam veterans in chronological order by the dates of their deaths. Standing eight feet high and stretching more than 200 feet, it also includes photos of Callinan's family and his funeral.

Dignity Memorial, the cemetery and funeral service provider that commissioned the three-fourths scale replica, donated it to the museum in 2017 after it had traveled to more than 200 cities nationwide.

The wall's renovation included a granite refacing as well as the addition of panels providing history about the war. The project is part of a $2.8 million overhaul of the museum's outdoor plaza, which is planned to eventually feature new memorials honoring Korean War veterans and Gold Star families.

As a bugler sounded taps, members of the Marine Corps League placed a wreath with red, white and blue flowers beside the wall.

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who later led U.S. Southern Command, served as Friday's keynote speaker. As he spoke, McCaffrey gestured to dozens of uniformed soldiers standing in formation. They were about to attend their infantry graduation ceremony.

"We are standing here with these young soldiers who have also stepped forward," McCaffrey said. "God bless all of you who have served in uniform before and for those who are now serving."

After listening to McCaffrey speak, retired Army Capt. Dennis Cherry watched his 23-year-old grandson graduate. Cherry, who served as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, said many men from his unit are listed on the wall.

"The wall is very moving to me," said Cherry, who owned a business after his military career. "I was one of the lucky ones to walk home."

After the dedication ceremony, Meagan Danley found her grandfather's name on the wall. She grasped her son William Danley's tiny hand and placed it on his great-grandfather's name. When the baby turned to her, his expressive face lit up. He seemed to be smiling.

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