ROCK FALLS – He sat quietly alone on a park bench, a red flower in his hand.
His eyes were locked on the immaculately polished black wall squarely in front of him.
“His name was William A. Hayes. His name is on Line 4.”
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Rock Falls, but Tom Kwiatkowski of Oregon found himself compelled to visit the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, set up in the RB&W District, and to find and speak Hayes’ name. It is one of 58,307 listed on the wall, the names appearing by date in the order in which they were killed.
The memorial wall will be in Rock Falls through Sunday. It is a three-fifths scale of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., stands 6 feet tall at the center and covers almost 300 feet from end to end.
It travels around the country and is open for viewing 24 hours a day. The mission is to help provide healing and a place to reflect on the lives lost in the Vietnam War.
A smaller wall – the Some Gave All Wall – is positioned in front of it bearing the names of those who died at the twin towers, the Pentagon and on Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. That wall continues with panels full of names of those who have died in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Local organizers said an estimated 700 people visited the walls in Rock Falls on Thursday, the first day it was in that city.
Diane Celletti of Rock Falls visited the wall that night and again Friday to honor her brother-in-law, Jerry Celletti. Jerry, a Newman High School graduate and younger brother of her late husband, John, was 18 when he was killed in 1968 while serving in the Army in Vietnam.
“He was a wonderful young kid, enjoying life,” she said, adding that Jerry, who had a girlfriend and was planning to work in the family business when he came back from war, was killed after being there a short time. “He saved a buddy over there.”
She remembers how the news of his death affected his parents, John and Ida.
“I know they notified his folks and they came to the house,” she said. “It was a very, very rough day.”
Diane and John’s five children will be in Rock Falls this weekend to visit the wall and reflect, she said.
Larry Adams of Rock Falls was at the wall with his wife, Donna, on Friday morning to find the name of his classmate, Steve Sellett.
He and Sellett attended Sterling High School, graduating together in 1965. He said Sellett was an officer, and he understands Sellett was a helicopter pilot who was shot down and killed.
Kwiatkowski’s friend Hayes was killed by sniper fire in Vietnam in 1968. Like Adams and Sellett, Kwiatkowski had been friends with Hayes when they attended high school. Hayes, who also attended ROTC training with Kwiatkowski, had dropped out of their Chicago high school sometime in their junior or early senior year and joined the Marines; Kwiatkowski graduated from high school in 1967.
A year later, he was at his friend’s wake.
On Friday, Kwiatkowski talked about how he regretted not serving in the military, and remembered his friend from so long ago.
“He was pretty good in school,” he said, his voice trailing off. “He was amazing.”