The Vietnam War ended in 1975. One decade later, Wes Wertz was born. Spoken word is how the vast majority of people on our planet express their wants and needs.
Wertz was not around to be exposed to the horrors of the war. He did not witness the political and social unrest in the United States during that time. He did not see or hear the hostility some people directed toward the soldiers who served.
Wertz, 34, has been the American Legion Post 141 commander in Indiana County for 10 years. In a time where people his age love to communicate via texts and social media, Wertz says his preferred method of communication is “good old-fashioned face-to-face talking.”
Through the years, Wertz has had many face-to-face encounters with veterans in the Indiana County area. Many are Vietnam War vets with plenty of stories to tell, and those stories have moved and intrigued him and inspired him to help the effort to bring the Wall That Heals to the region.
The Wall That Heals is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. that honors the men and women who gave their lives while serving in the war. The wall travels the country, and its 2019 stops include Plymouth, Pennsylvania; Manitowoc, Wisconsin; South Bend, Indiana; and Ocean View, Delaware. It will then head to Indiana County for a residency at Mack Park, 803 Hospital Road in Indiana, from Oct. 8 to 13. It will be on display to the public 24 hours per day during its stay.
Wertz applied in October 2018 for the honor of bringing the wall to Indiana County.
“Indiana County is veteran strong and veteran proud,” he says. “We are one of just 19 locations to host the wall this year. It just so happened that we were sitting at a Northern Appalachian Folk Festival Committee meeting, and it just kind of came up in conversation. We said, ‘Hey, let’s try to get it.’
“I submitted the paperwork and I didn’t hear anything for a while, so I figured I would submit it again for 2020, and then I received a phone call and they said we were selected. The news wasn’t fit for print, yet, and they were going to officially release the names in two weeks. I had to hold it to myself for two weeks. I couldn’t tell anyone — not even the rest of the committee members. I was bursting at the seams.”
Wertz says 41 Indiana County residents were killed in action in the Vietnam War.
The wall may be a replica, but it is far from undersized. The memorial is 375 feet in length and stands 7½ feet high at its tallest point — altogether three-quarters of the size of the wall in Washington. Machine engraving of more than 58,000 names and LED lighting will provide illumination both day and night.
Wertz, a former Army infantryman, was able to view the wall at another location last year and was impressed.
“They had it on a baseball field, and as I was approaching it, this wall was literally arched from (left field to right field),” he says.
The wall is made of the same granite as the wall in D.C., he adds.
The folk festival, which has featured headlining acts including Rusted Root, Wheatus and Sophie B. Hawkins in the past, is scheduled for Sept. 6 and 7, and Wertz wants to use the event to promote the wall's visit.
Wertz is also on several other veterans’ committees. He has been an active force in honoring vets since taking the commander’s post at age 24. For a while, he was the youngest American Legion commander in the country.
“The beauty is that I work with people of all ages because I adapt to things very easily,” he says. “But I have been kidded about my age. One man said, ‘When did you crawl from your diaper into the suit?’”