PEMBROKE, N.Y. – Inked in capital letters, sorted by time, date and exact month of death, the 50,000 names stand timeless on the Vietnam Wall.
Last week, this wall was in Providence, Rhode Island; the week before that, Georgia. Last month it was in Minnesota. Each week, the "Cost of Freedom Tribute" visits towns big and small, in every corner of the United States, displaying an almost-identical replica of the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C. At each location, mothers can search for their sons, sisters for their brothers. Each name is etched permanently into stone, listed side by side, in an effort to conceptualize the unfathomable amount of human loss in Vietnam.
And that's just the Vietnam Wall. The traveling tribute also includes a wall with the names of every American killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are posters to commemorate police officers and firefighters killed in 9/11. The Fort Hood shootings. World War II. The Korean War. Every American conflict, dating back to the Revolutionary War, is accounted for.
Run by a group named American Veterans Traveling Tribute, the "Cost of Freedom Tribute" is designed to give every American the chance to remember fallen troops, regardless of geography.
And this week, Pembroke, N.Y., got its chance to pay tribute.
"Roger John Cook. Medina, New York," says Olivia Coniber, a sixth-grader from Corfu, reading a name on the bottom of the Vietnam Wall. "August 1, 1948, to January 15, 1967."
Olivia, along with her younger sisters Lucy and Morgan, have learned about Vietnam in school, but they've never seen all of these names before. Along with their mother, Shannon, the Coniber girls spent several minutes reading the names in silence.
"You get to see who died. They're not just random people died. All these heroes, died," Olivia said.
"So you can put names with the heroes who died," her mother added.
Joanne Borghi remembers what it was like to be a little girl. She grew up in the midst of Vietnam. During her teenage years, she wore a bracelet to commemorate a man named Captain James Egan, who'd gone Missing in Action. She had never met Egan, nor did she know anything about him, but the name never escaped her.
"As soon as I heard this was here, I said, 'I gotta go'," Borghi said.
So she drove from Victor, N.Y., to search for Captain Egan's name. Using the help of a locator system on site, she scoured more than 50,000 names on the wall, before eventually finding him and learning he was from New Jersey.
"It was a real name. A real person," Borghi said. "All these years later, I just never forgot that name, and I just had to do it."
Red Robinson, the co-chairman of the Cost of Freedom Tribute and a member of the American Legion Post 626 (based in Alabama, New York), said the memorial is intended for these types of reunions.
"Hopefully, we can help some people bring some closure, just by being here," Robinson said. "We're proud to have done this."
Robinson said it took more than a year to plan for the traveling tribute's arrival, but the work appeared to pay off. Despite some subpar weather this week, turnout was generally quite high.
Closing ceremonies are set for Sunday.
"The kids have been the greatest thing for us right now. Yesterday, we had a group of kids come in and just totally shocked us, they came over to see the wall and had their t-shirts on, and they were from Brooklyn, New York!" Robinson said. "For us, it just blew us away. It was awesome."
Visitors to the memorial also heard local musicians play "Taps," and they were even treated to poetry this weekend. Abby Shaw, a 9th grader at Pembroke, wrote a poem to be displayed on the memorial.
The cost of freedom, is certainly not free. So let's all bow, and take a knee," she says, reciting her poem. "For the ones who have served, and the ones who have died. For the ones who have lived, and the ones who have cried."
"These people really did work their hardest to fight for our freedom," 11-year-old Olivia Coniber said. "They should be recognized for what they did."