Jody Knack was only 15 in August of 1971 when her 20-year-old brother, Gary Holian, was killed in Vietnam.
On Thursday morning, she and her husband, Steve, were honored to carry and install panel 3W of The Moving Wall, the one containing Holian's name.
Schedule of activities10:30 a.m. Friday: Opening ceremony at the Moving Wall
6 p.m. Friday: A public veterans assembly in the West Aurora High School auditorium featuring keynote speakers Gen. Max Baratz (WA '52) and Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Lee Davis
7:15 p.m. Friday: A flag retirement ceremony at the Wall
2 p.m. Saturday: Recognition of Gold Star Families who lost loved ones in war
6 p.m. to midnight Saturday: A night out for veterans at Ballydoyle to benefit Honor Flight Chicago, a group that flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to view the World War II memorial
10 a.m. Sunday: A nondenominational healing service at the Moving Wall
2 p.m. Monday: A wreath-laying ceremony for all branches of the military
Dusk Monday: A candlelight vigil at the closing ceremony for the Moving Wall
"My husband and I escorted the wall here and it was an extra bonus to carry the panel, just like bringing a little bit of him back home," she said. "It's quite an honor. He's also on panel 3W (on The Vietnam Veterans Memorial) in Washington, D.C., so I knew exactly where to find him."
The Moving Wall, a three-fifths replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was escorted Thursday by hundreds of motorcycle riders to the practice soccer fields at West Aurora High School, where it will remain in place through Veterans Day.
Also on display will be the Illinois Fallen Heroes Traveling Memorial, a model of the World War II memorial and Aurora's Healing Field of Honor.
Herschel Luckinbill, Navy veteran and chairman of The Moving Wall Committee in Aurora, learned in January that his application was accepted and Aurora had been selected as one of the 21 cities to host the wall this year.
He was disappointed when his request to have the wall displayed in August was denied, but overjoyed when it meant Aurora would have the wall on Veterans Day.
He fought back tears Thursday as he thanked sponsors and the volunteers who helped make his dream to honor his lost shipmates come true.
"I'm, elated, overjoyed, moved, excited, you name it," Luckinbill said as volunteers began helping install the 74-panel wall. "I'm the happiest guy in the whole world right now, by far."
Glendale Heights veteran Marcus Laumann served from 1969 to 1971 and said he has several friends listed on the wall
"Poor health kept me from seeing them several years ago when a traveling wall came to Bloomingdale and I've never forgiven myself," he said as he helped carry support beams from the truck. "I'm in good shape now, so I'm going to do what I can. Carrying a few beams is the least I can do for the honor of being able to pay my proper respects so close to home."
Andrew and Sandi Gorski of Warrenville were among the hundreds of motorcyclists escorting the wall Thursday. They also grabbed a drill and were among the first to begin assembling the base and support system.
Both members of the Patriot Guard Riders, the Gorskis said they wanted to be involved in bringing the monument close to home.
"We make rides to D.C. to see the memorial and keep the memory of these 58,000 men alive," he said. "We've seen The Moving Wall before, but helping to put it up is extra special. When this wall goes up, I turn into a puddle."
With the help of volunteers, the wall was fully constructed by 10:45 a.m. before being opened to the public at 1 p.m.
"It was a great effort. Everyone helped out and got it up," Luckinbill said. "Now it's here and ready for folks to come visit."
More than 300,000 people are expected to visit the wall during the four days it is on display. Hundreds of volunteers will be on hand to assist visitors and participate in the solemn 71-hour ceremony in which each of the 58,282 names on the wall are read.
Events will continue Friday with opening ceremonies at 10 a.m. followed by a 7:15 p.m. flag retirement ceremony during which more than 800 tattered and torn flags will be retired.
Though special events are scheduled, access to the wall and other memorials is available around the clock, with professional security hired to keep watch throughout the night.