Volunteer offers comfort to visitors
McCOOK, Nebraska -- She watches them closely ... the veterans who stand at a distance and those who cautiously or reverently approach the Vietnam War traveling memorial walls.
Monica Harvey, a chaplain from Stapleton, Nebraska, sets up a "comfort zone" of lawn chairs at the entrances to the 90-plus traveling memorial walls that she has visited. Sometimes this is as far as a veteran can get to the wall, especially if it's his or her first time, Monica said in McCook, Nebraska, Thursday morning, as volunteers erected a traveling memorial wall on Weiland football field.
To veterans, Monica hands a lapel pin, a heart-shaped silver-gray medal embossed with a bandage, and explains, "This is a bandage for your heart, for your service to our country."
She continues, watching his eyes, "It's also a wrist watch -- it's about time someone told you 'thank you.' It's polished, like the wall, in memory of your brothers."
Monica concludes, "It's God's healing touch, for whatever ails you."
Monica said Thursday, "I get cried on a lot ... hugged a lot."
Monica said she stays close, ready to catch those in true physical distress. "I don't ask questions ... I just watch," she said.
Monica describes the memorial wall as a "step in healing. Many veterans visit more than one wall. It doesn't get 'easier ... maybe 'less complicated'."
Monica was passing out her heart-shaped lapel pins Thursday morning, and counted, "I've given out 74,000 medals, and visited 90 traveling walls and national memorials in 31 states."
Monica cupped her fingers over the closed hands of big ol' Don Lafferty of Danbury and McCook Thursday morning after she handed him one of her medals. She ended her talk with Don with a hug.
"I watch their eyes," Monica said. "I watch for the depth of their pain."
She concluded, "And they all wear dark glasses ... "
Don Lafferty and Linda Thieben, also of McCook and Danbury and also watching the erection of the wall in McCook Thursday morning, share the same grief, having lost close friends in the Vietnam War.
"They took the best of the best of Danbury," Linda said, tears rimming her eyes. The tiny town, with no more than 300 residents at many points in its history, gave its fellow Americans three of its best young men -- Daniel Wayne "Danny" Thomas, missing in action on July 6, 1971, and declared killed in action on Oct. 11, 1979; Larry Dale Knight, killed in action on Oct. 6, 1966; and Donovan Walters, killed on Dec. 31, 1972.