Nearly 40 years after the last shots of the Vietnam War were fired in Saigon, South Vietnam, Daniel Williams, 74, still remembers vividly the battles he fought in rice fields during the conflict.
"I was part of the 1st Infantry Division," Williams said. "We were just 60 miles north of Saigon."
The Rio Linda resident and dozens of other Vietnam War veterans gathered Wednesday at Mount Vernon Memorial Park and Mortuary in Fair Oaks with a mission - preserving the memory of the war.
Coinciding with Memorial Day, Dignity Memorial, the parent of Mount Vernon, brought in a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.
The original memorial in Washington, D.C., consists of a black granite wall engraved with the 58,195 names of those who died in the conflict. This replica, a three-quarter scale of the original, has the same reflective black surface.
"This is for people who might never have a chance to visit the memorial in Washington, D.C.," said Marc Johnson, marketing manager at Dignity Memorial.
The 8-foot high, 240-foot-long replica has visited 200 cities since it was created in 1990.
There are five versions of the Washington, D.C., wall that travel around the country. Johnson said the Dignity Memorial last came to the Sacramento region about 15 years ago.
The reunion of Vietnam veterans started at 10 a.m. Wednesday, when the California Highway Patrol and other groups escorted a big rig carrying the wall pieces from Dixon to Fair Oaks.
Upon the truck's arrival, a throng of volunteers got to work, building the platform for the memorial and unloading the heavy pieces of artificial granite.
Nancy Orman of Rocklin showed up to help because she wanted "to share the experience of the memorial."
"I went to the wall in D.C. two years ago, and it stirred things up within me," Orman said.
Nearby, war veterans pitched in with power tools, working side-by-side with a group of young Beale Air Force Base cadets.
Daniel Williams' fondest memory of the war was the "camaraderie of the guys."
"I served with the finest men. There was no politics or religion," he said. "We just saved each others' butts."
Across the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, florist Janna Hoehn also is keeping the memory of the war alive.
Hoehn is part of a national effort to match the names on the wall with photographs. A 35,000-square-foot Vietnam War Education Center under construction near the Washington, D.C., memorial will house the photos.
Hoehn started her search on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where she now lives. After some success, she expanded the effort to her hometown of Hemet in Riverside County. Now, she is zeroing in on Sacramento County.
Of the fallen soldiers from Sacramento County, she said 122 still aren't represented with a photo.
Hoehn is seeking the public's help in collecting photos of the service members. "Putting a face with a name," she said, "changes the dynamic of that wall."
LOOKING FOR PHOTOGRAPHS
A national effort is under way to collect photos of the 58,195 Americans who died in the Vietnam War. Of Sacramento County's 204 war dead, there are 122 for which photos are still needed: http://bit.ly/10umasi
Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.