United Township High School Junior Baylee Burklund scanned the names of tens of thousands of Vietnam War casualties etched into the 360-foot black wall set up at the City Park in Geneseo, Ill.
She crouched down Friday in front of one of the last panels, where she found the name she was looking for: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corp. John Charles Smith, her great-uncle.
Smith, 20, was killed in Vietnam on May 17, 1968.
Burklund placed a piece of paper over the name and slowly dragged a crayon over it until she got an imprint. She did a second etching with a pencil.
“I’m proud to have had someone who served his country,” she said. “But it’s hard. It’s still hard for everyone.”
Burklund said she plans to put the etching in a scrapbook when she gets home.
She was one of 157 United Township students to visit the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, which features an 80 percent scale version of the Vietnam monument in Washington, D.C.
Both the monument and the replica contain the names of 58,263 U.S. armed forces members who died in the Vietnam War.
The wall’s display is sponsored by the Don Cherry VFW Post No. 5083, its auxiliary and the Geneseo Foundation.
Rhonda Borkgren, president of the ladies auxiliary, said United Township is the first high school to bring students to see the display. Local residents and people from a day-care center, nursing home and senior groups have visited the wall since it went up on Wednesday.
Friday’s trip was organized by United Township history teachers Heather Monson and Justin Shiltz.
Monson said that for many students, their knowledge of the Vietnam War is limited to what they’ve seen in movies.
Monson said she wants her students to "recognize the relevance of what happened in the past to their lives today."
"I hope that they take away a deep sense of appreciation for our veterans,” she said. “This is an opportunity to witness history."
Shiltz added that it makes a “bigger impact” on the students when they can actually see history and not just read about it in a textbook.
Local veterans led groups along the wall and talked to them about the war and their experiences. One veteran showed students flight gear worn by pilots in Vietnam.
Some students walked along the wall and quickly scanned the names, while others took their time and lingered at some of the panels.
Juniors Tayler Walker, Madison DeVoss and Sadie Roberts, all 16, said they saw the wall in D.C. during an eighth-grade trip.
Walker said the most interesting part of Friday’s trip was hearing stories from the veterans.
“They had so much emotion towards the war,” she said. “A lot of them didn’t know they had friends who died until they got back.”
“It’s nice that we can honor everyone,” Roberts said.