RMCNews with Dick Stenbakken – Farmington, New Mexico … The 150-member Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Farmington, New Mexico was front and center in the local community and surrounding area, September 7 – 11. They were initiators and sponsors of The Wall that Heals, a three-quarter-sized traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Lillian Clopine, church member, got the idea several years ago that sponsoring The Wall That Heals would be a positive way for Adventists to be involved in their community. She, and her husband, Bill, along with members of the Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, applied to host The Wall That Heals as it traveled across the country. They were elated when the application was approved. The Wall did not travel in 2020, and few new applications were approved for 2021. In November 2020, they received word that they would be one of 37 communities across the United States where The Wall would be displayed in 2021.
The Clopines and the Piñon Hills church enlisted support from a wide range of local individuals and organizations. Jennifer Halphen, a church member and vice-chair of the Host Committee, was deeply involved from the very beginning and led site logistics. Soon, Gary Smouse, owner of the local Chick-fil-A, joined as the second Host Committee vice-chair. His meticulous planning helped bring in an additional Host Sponsor, the Blue Star Mothers of America New Mexico Chapter One. Many community members and local businesses came forward to provide financial and other support.
“This event was both rewarding and humbling at the same time,” said Lillian Clopine. For her, as the chief organizer,“this event has clearly brought attention and increased visibility to the Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
As community members, the church, and citizens, they wished to honor the veterans. They also desired “to sponsor an event that would serve the Four Corners in a meaningful way. I believe the Holy Spirit has guided us through this process, and these goals have been achieved,” Clopine added.
The Wall arrived in Durango, Colorado on the afternoon of September 7. An honor guard escort of more than 70 motorcycles assembled to accompany the Wall from Durango to Farmington. Vietnam veterans led the procession, followed by the 53-foot semi, which transportsThe Wall. The rest of the honor guard of motorcycles and vintage vehicles with flying flags, followed. Colorado State Patrol escorted the procession to the border where the New Mexico State Patrol took over the rest of the way to the San Juan College athletic fields in Farmington, where volunteers would assemble the Wall on the following day.
Dr. Dick Stenbakken, Chaplain (Colonel) U. S. Army, Retired, former Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference, and a Vietnam veteran, spoke at the volunteer breakfast held at the Piñon Hills Adventist church on the day of The Wall’s arrival and was also the keynote speaker at the honors ceremony the evening of Thursday, September 9. The breakfast honored the many volunteers who were on site to assist those visiting The Wall for the duration of the event. The San Juan County sheriff’s office provided a 21-gun salute that echoed back from the large Wall following a bagpipe playing taps.
The Thursday evening Honors Ceremony hosted more than 850 people, including presentations by Rear Admiral Bruce Black, State Senator William Sharer, and Chaplain Stenbakken. The opening event closed with a spectacular, low-level helicopter fly-over from Kirtland Airforce Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They had received final approval from the FAA only 24 hours before their scheduled fly-over.
Saturday morning, a special Blessing Ceremony was provided by Navajo Nation representatives with more than 500 attending. The Navajo ceremony included the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance in Navajo, Native American drummers, and a keynote speech by Myron Lizer, Vice President of the Navajo Nation.
Volunteers were at The Wall, even overnight, to help people locate specific names from the more than 58,200 names engraved on the Wall.
For Chaplain Stenbakken, the invitation to participate in the event brought memories from the past. “Being at The Wall was very personal for me,” said Stenbakken. “The name of a young man I met two days into my first pastoral assignment is there – panel 5-E, line 5. We corresponded regularly until he was killed in action. His face, his name, and his memory have never left me. I saw him off at the local airport, and I saw his flag-draped coffin return home to the same airport. When asked about representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church as an Army chaplain, his memory played a large part in my saying yes to that call and career.”
The semi-truck that transports The Wall opens to become a Mobile Education Center, which displays the history of the Vietnam war and the story of The Wall itself. This Mobile Education Center is a traveling museum with artifacts from the war, items left at The Wall in Washington D.C., and digital displays honoring local Hometown Heroes.
This event was a unique way for the local Seventh-day Adventist church to lead a major community event for the entire Four-Corners region and is a testimony to what can be done with prayer, planning, and hard work. “Several Host Committee members expressed the conviction that they could see God’s hand throughout the process of preparing for this event and its success,” Clopine remarked.
It is estimated that more than 3,000 individuals visited the Wall while it was in Farmington. Local schools were also involved, and nearly 800 students visited and learned about this important part of American history.
Many Vietnam veterans who attended the programs expressed appreciation for being recognized for their service and this remembrance of people they knew whose names are engraved on the black stone of The Wall That Heals. The Wall also serves as a powerful reminder of Christ, who brings ultimate healing.
–RMCNews with Dick Stenbakken Chaplain (Colonel) U. S. Army, Retired, former Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference, and a Vietnam veteran, photos supplied