McALLEN -- The

40-something year-old whose only memory of his father is from a

photograph of himself as a young child standing in front of his

papa's flag-draped coffin; the mother who doesn't find much comfort

in the medals awarded her only son who was one of the more than

58,000 killed in action; the daughter who met her father for the

first time as a name on the Vietnam Memorial. We don't often think

of families as casualties of war, but their wounds are just as

real.

Perhaps they

will find comfort, if not closure, in meeting with Vietnam

veterans, hearing their stories, visiting "The Healing Wall,"

walking on the map of South Vietnam and locating where their loved

ones served, or participating in the tribute program at the finale

of LZ:RGV-Operation Welcome Home, which will be held Saturday,

April 9 at the McAllen Convention Center.

A

dedication of the Healing Wall Thursday morning, marked the opening

of this 250-foot-long, replica of the Vietnam Memorial in

Washington, D.C., its information center, and traveling museum. It

will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Saturday.

On site computers and volunteers will be available to help visitors

locate the names of loved ones and visitors will be able to leave

items in tribute.

LZ:RGV -

Operation Welcome Home will continue on Saturday with a dedication

of a new installation at the McAllen Veterans Memorial adjacent to

the McAllen Convention Center. The Memorial will be open from 8

a.m. to 12 p.m., with the dedication scheduled for 10:30 a.m. At

noon, a procession of motorcycle riders will dramatically ride in

solidarity of the veterans onto the Convention Center grounds and

then will park in a display adjacent to the Healing Wall, joining a

Military vehicle display and the oversized map of South Vietnam,

where veterans will be able to show their loved ones where they

served.

Doors to the

Convention Center open at 12:30 p.m. with more than 20 exhibitor

booths featuring information and services to veterans and their

families. The main lobby will display the unprecedented 55

proclamations that have been received as well as the Memory Room

with tables for visitors who want to display items and photographs

from the Vietnam War. Free workshops will be held from 1-5 p.m.

with presentations about veterans organizations, services and

benefits as well as a poetry reading and presentation on a movie

being produced about the true life story of three South Texas

brothers who, against U.S. policy, all served in Vietnam at the

same time in 1970.

A

play titled "Pat and Lyndon" will be presented at 1:30 p.m. in the

Exhibit Hall Main Stage. This two-act play is presented by the

Pharr Literacy Project & Cultural Arts Center and Elva Michal,

written by Archer Crosley and directed by Pedro Garcia. The play

tells the fictional story of a conversation between a soldier and

the 36th President of the United States. Patricio Castaneda was

born in Weslaco, Texas and was only 20 years old when he died in

Vietnam. Lyndon B. Johnson was president during one of the hardest

times in America’s History. More than 300,000 U.S. troops were at

war. This is the story of leadership, courage, sorrow,

controversies and family. Following the play, the Veterans Band of

Corpus Christi will perform in the Exhibit Hall until 4:30

p.m.

The LZ:RGV -

Operation Welcome Home Tribute will begin at 6:00 p.m. (1600 hours)

in the Exhibit Hall Main Stage. The Tribute will include HERO

videos, a salute to Vietnam veterans, a tribute to MIA/POW and

those Killed in Action, and a special tribute to all our troops and

veterans. Hosted by Marta Benavides and Rock and Roll James, with

special guests and keynote speaker Retired Lt. General Ricardo

Sanchez, and  musical performances from the Vietnam

War era include Paulino Bernal, Freddie Martinez, Sunny Ozuna,

Carlos Guzman and Roberto Pulido. There also will be a veteran’s

video tribute from Bobby Pulido.  

South Texas

Vietnam veterans didn't expect that the country they so love would

one day attempt to make amends for what happened so long ago,

neither did they expect the overwhelming show of support from our

community.  Hidalgo County Veterans Services Director

Emilio De Los Santos - who is all too well aware of their advanced

age, health issues and the increasing number of funerals - said

this tribute is coming not a moment too soon.

"font-size: 10pt;">"We lose 390 Vietnam veterans every day and many

more are critically ill," De Los Santos said. "So it's important

for us to take the time to do this for them now before we lose even

more."

"font-size: 10pt;">LZ:RGV Welcome Home is made possible by many

donors including major sponsors: the American Legion, H-E-B,

L&F Distributors-Budweiser, Linebarger Goggan, Entravision

Communications, Ramon Garcia,  The delRio Agency, IBC

Bank RGV, Godinez Communications, Miguel Carrera Communications,

the Joseph Palacios family of Edinburg and the City of

McAllen.

"font-size: 10pt;">The event is free and open to the public. There

is no registration necessary. Everyone is invited to bring their

families and spend the day together to reflect on service,

sacrifice and triumph.