Thousands descend on Hilo to visit Vietnam memorial The Wall That Heals

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Lei, small balloons, pictures and other mementos, including a can of Michelob beer littered the base of the traveling Vietnam memorial wall that spanned 375 feet across Russell Carroll Mo‘oheau County Park along Hilo’s Bayfront.

Hundreds gathered to The Wall That Heals, a Vietnam memorial, on Jan. 27, 2024, which was erected along Hilo’s Bayfront on Jan. 24, 2024. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

Since opening the exhibit Wednesday, at least 11,000 people have come to see The Wall That Heals, a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial that was dedicated in 1982 in Washington D.C. The traveling wall bears the names of 58,281 men and women, across 140 synthetic granite panels, who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War. It also honors the more than three million people who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the war.

Volunteers from the Big Island community, Hawai‘i Island police recruits, younger generation veterans and Hawai‘i County workers came together to assemble the three-quarter scale wall replica that stands 7 1/2 feet tall at its tallest point on Wednesday.

“About three days ago this place was a park and every time a panel went up it was transformed from a park to holy ground,” said Al Lipphardt, Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. who spoke to a gathered crowd on Saturday. “There are angels among us.”

The park on Saturday was full of men, women and their families anxious to find the name of a friend or family member.

Alfred Haraguchi, who served in the 442nd Army Reserve, came to the wall seeking out his old bunk mates: Larry Gene Leopoldino and Rodney Fukunaga.


Haraguchi remembered fondly his time in basic training with Leopoldino as they used to go speed racing every weekend.

Haraguchi was in Vietnam in 1969. Haraguchi left on a stretcher pointing to an old injury he suffered on his leg.

Having the wall here is “very touching” for the Hilo native.

Tony Miller, 63, came to the wall to get a rubbing of the name Raymond O. Simons Jr.

Miller was about 6 years old when he first knew Simons when he lived in Pennsylvania Western, West Virginia Coal mine. Simons, who dated his older sisters, died in Vietnam.


Miller, a member of the Blue Water Navy, currently lives in Hilo. When he told his sisters the wall was coming they said: “Go down and look for Raymond.”

“So often veterans are overlooked and underappreciated,” Miller said. “Most of the time we’re taken for granted.”

  • The Wall That Heals, a Vietnam memorial, was blessed on Jan. 27, 2024, during a closing ceremony after the exhibit was erected along Hilo’s Bayfront on Jan. 24, 2024. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)
  • Al Lipphardt, Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. spoke to hundreds at The Wall That Heals, set up along Hilo’s Bayfront, on Jan. 27. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)
  • James Jeong looks for his cousin’s name on The Wall That Heals, a Vietnam memorial, on Jan. 27, 2024. The exhibit was erected along Hilo’s Bayfront on Jan. 24, 2024. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)
  • Tony Miller did a name rubbing at The Wall That Heals, a Vietnam memorial, on Jan. 27, 2024, which was erected along Hilo’s Bayfront on Jan. 24, 2024. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)
  • Community members come to look at The Wall That Heals on Jan. 27, 2024, set up on Hilo’s Bayfront. (Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

David Bobo, 72, drove from South Point to see The Wall That Heals.

The last time he saw the Vietnam Wall Memorial was at the State’s Capitol in the 1980s. Bobo said it was hard for him to say what the wall meant to him. “It’s called ‘the scar’ for a reason.”

Bobo served in the U.S. Army as part of a long-range reconnaissance patrol and 75th ranger.


“We ran small intelligence missions,” he said, adding the three- to five-man teams would be out in the Vietnam jungle for a week, 10 days or two weeks at a time.

While he did come to the wall, he said he’s tried to forget the names of those who’ve died.

“We actually made an agreement in our unit that if anybody got killed or wounded, we would remember them as being who they are, and not what happened to them,” he said adding that included death and maiming.

Despite that, he came to pay respects.

“I couldn’t even list the number that either disappeared or didn’t come back from my ranger unit,” Bobo said. “I couldn’t tell you, it’s just not comfortable.”

James Jeong was having a hard time finding his cousin’s name on the wall. He knew he was in front of the correct panel when he saw a framed photo of Kimo at the base of the wall.

With help from a volunteer, he located it under his full name: Hayward K.H. Peleiholani. Jeong knew him as Kimo. “I feel like he’s right here with me right now,” Jeong said.

The pair grew up in Kalapana together. Jeong was 22 years old when Peleiholani came back from basic training. When Kimo told him he was going to Vietnam, Jeong suggested they head out to enjoy themselves at the now-closed Orchid Island Hotel in Hilo.

That was the last time he saw Peleiholani alive. He came home from Vietnam in a closed casket.

As a Vietnam veteran, Lipphardt said these are not names on a wall.

“These are warriors. Warriors who gave the last full measure and devotion to this nation,” he said. “They gave their tomorrows so you could have your today.”

Lipphardt told the audience the wall is personal for him for names inscribed on Panel 30E: Lewis Sloan, Kenneth Adams, Philip Adams, Robert Waddell, Rodney Loatman along with one other name.

“Kenneth, Philip, Robert and Rodney were all killed Thanksgiving Day 1967,” Lipphardt said. “They were men who served under my command.”

Lipphardt said he used to have survivor’s guilt saying he carried Loatman’s death with him for more than 40 years. The day he died in action, Lipphardt said he was standing next to him when he told him to move.

“What if I had been a millisecond faster? Maybe he’d still be alive,” Lipphardt said.

But eventually, Lipphardt understood that war is war, and it doesn’t discriminate.

After a week of ceremonies and events, the exhibit will be taken down today and moved to the island of Maui. It will be escorted on Feb. 7, set up on the 8th for viewing 24 hours a day from Feb. 9 until closing at 2 p.m. on Feb. 13.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at
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