As he listened to the names of fallen Alaska veterans read over a loudspeaker Saturday at the Delaney Park Strip, Jim LaBelle heard his younger brother's name and saluted.
Kermit LaBelle was a Marine who died July 28, 1967, in Vietnam, Jim said. He was 18 and had taken a comrade's watch duty because he thought the other man needed more rest. A rocket-propelled grenade killed him.
In the Navy at the time, Jim LaBelle volunteered to escort his brother's body back to Fairbanks.
"I have a grandson who will be turning 18 in about 10 days. So as that date gets closer," LaBelle said, holding back tears, "I think about that."
LaBelle was one of about 300 people at the Park Strip for a remembrance ceremony to recognize the 58,272 war casualties whose names are etched on the memorial. The monument, on display in Anchorage until Monday, is dubbed "The Moving Wall." It's a mobile version of the larger Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. After several short speeches and music by the Air Force Band of the Pacific -- including a rendition of the military funeral song "Taps" on bugle -- dozens of visitors fanned out to search for familiar names on the wall's shiny, black panels.
Among them: The 58 people from Alaska known to have been killed in Vietnam.
Some visitors rubbed a pencil on a piece of paper they held over a name, creating a keepsake. Others left flowers at the base of the wall. Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges, commander of the Alaska Army National Guard, stood a few panels away from where the name of his uncle, Lt. Billie Sandefur, appeared.
"He was one of my heroes, as a kid," Bridges said. "He was just one of those guys that was always there roughhousing with me and my brother. He showed me how to use an ax the first time splitting kindling."
Sandefur was awarded the Silver Star for bravery during the battle that killed him. He had led a platoon through heavy fighting in a rice paddy, lobbed a well-aimed grenade at a machine gunner and died soon after from injuries, according to military documents Bridges held in a folder.
Bridges was 7 when his father told him that his uncle was dead, he said. It was the only time he saw his father in tears.
"That night, as I cried myself to sleep because my favorite uncle wasn't coming back, I made a promise to replace Uncle Bill when I got big enough," Bridges said.
When Bridges enlisted years later, it started a military career that spanned three decades and brought him to Alaska. Having a traveling wall like the monument that appeared in Anchorage Saturday makes it possible to place the military -- and the toll of war -- into perspective for more people, he said.
"Soldiers never want war, but we will go and fight it until we're told to stop, and then we'll also help with the repair and cleanup afterwards," Bridges said. "Memorializing that is important for future generations, so they can visualize the cost."
Vietnam vet Dennis Barios, a former cavalry sergeant, counts two close friends and seven soldiers from his platoon among those killed in Vietnam.
"You shared everything with these guys. There were no secrets," Barios said. "If you lived in a foxhole with a guy, he knew everything there was to know about you. Someday this guy was going to save your life. It came down to that. When you lost one of them, it was staggering."
It took years to deal with the trauma of the war and the difficulties of readjusting to civilian life, he said. After finding the names of his two friends on the wall Saturday, Barios said he still couldn't handle seeing the names of his platoon-mates killed in the war. At least not until everyone else was gone.
"I'll break down and start crying and I don't want everybody here to see that," Barios said. "I'll come back later tonight and do it."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.