Rose Pease of South Chicago Heights finds the name of her brother, Michael Gunta on the 1969 panel of the Wall That Heals. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
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Crowd gathers for solemn ceremony at the Wall That Heals

A solemn ceremony Thursday afternoon opened the Bloom Township display of The Wall That Heals, a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

The memorial will be on display 24 hours each day through 2 p.m. Sunday on the grounds of Marian Catholic High School, 700 Ashland Ave. in Chicago Heights. 

Rose Pease of South Chicago Heights finds the name of her brother, Michael Gunta on the 1969 panel of the Wall That Heals. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
Rose Pease of South Chicago Heights finds the name of her brother, Michael Gunta on the 1969 panel of the Wall That Heals. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

A candlelight ceremony will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 9, and feature Comanche Indian Chief Albert Valdiviez, who will explain how the military used Native Americans as code talkers to prevent the enemy from learning American strategies. The closing ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. on July 10.

A steady stream of people have come to visit the wall since it officially opened on July 6. Among them was Rose Pease of South Chicago Heights who found her brother’s name etched into one of the granite panels. Michael Gunta was 20 years old when he died April 8, 1969. She still has his picture on her dresser.

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“It’s so wonderful they’re doing this,” she said. “They deserve all the respect they are receiving.”

The disassembled wall crossed into Illinois at Lansing and got an official escort from first responders, including the Homewood and Flossmoor police departments. Once on the grounds of Marian Catholic, about 60 volunteers helped assemble it, including the football players at Marian and Bloom High Schools.

Bloom Township Supervisor T.J. Somer, who spearheaded the effort, said his team had worked for a year to bring The Wall That Heals to the area. He said he wanted to bring the memorial to the area to draw the attention of young people who may not know the history of the war and the many sacrifices faced by members of the military.

“The memories and meaning behind it are far too critical to all of us as human beings,” Somer said. He read a list of names of those killed in action who had lived in the 12 cities and villages in Bloom Township.

Someone placed a memorial for Kankakee resident Dan Bullock whose name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. When he joined the Marines, he lied about his age. He was 15 when he died. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
Someone placed a memorial for Kankakee resident Dan Bullock whose name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. When he joined the Marines, he lied about his age. He was 15 when he died. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

He especially thanked Chicago Heights and Marian Catholic for their efforts, and said about 150 people have served as volunteers since the tribute opened to the public.

The ceremony opened with members of the Bloom Trail High School ROTC presenting the colors as the audience of about 75 people recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller and Leroy Jaworski of the Chicago Heights American Legion presented a memorial wreath, and a minister gave a blessing.

Guest speaker was Reginald Baker, a retired Cook County Circuit Court judge who served for 20 years at the Markham Courthouse. He is a retired colonel with the United States Marine Corps and served in Vietnam when he was 19. He was in 17 combat missions.

The wall, with its more than 58,000 names is a tribute “to the American heroes who paid the ultimate price for their citizenship and died for their country.”

Visitors gather along a section of the Wall That Heals on display through Sunday afternoon at Marian Catholic High School. It is a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
Visitors gather along a section of the Wall That Heals on display through Sunday afternoon at Marian Catholic High School. It is a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

He recalled visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall as a tourist. He looked up the name of a buddy he played cards with. “And the names are listed chronologically and I knew not only his name, but the six that followed,” Baker said. They had been fellow Marines who lost their lives in a firefight during Operation Hastings that kept Baker and others pinned down for hours. 

During the Vietnam era, the country was divided about the war and newly passed civil rights legislation. Baker said none of that mattered to those who served. Members of the military know true brotherhood.

“You don’t have the luxury of being divided,” he said.  “The blood on the battle field is all one color: red.” 

Baker gave a warning for the major divide in the country today.

“We are family, and like most families there are members we connect with and some that we don’t. But there are some fringes of our society who are talking about civil war. That’s ludicrous. 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, 620,000 died in the Civil War. Do we want that? No. Do we want a country that looks like Syria or Ukraine? No. We need to work together,” Baker said.

Jeff Angellotti of Crete was a visitor to the Wall That Heals on display at Marian Catholic High School. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
Jeff Angellotti of Crete was a visitor to the Wall That Heals on display at Marian Catholic High School. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

He takes great pride in those who wear the uniform today, keeping the oath to defend the country “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Baker said he also applauds those willing to protect their own honor by telling the truth, recognizing that it may cost them their friends or livelihood. 

“There is but one rule of conduct for a man, and that is to do the right thing,” Baker told the audience.

The ceremony ended with three veterans firing off their guns in salute, and the audience standing in silence for the playing of taps.

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