When speaking to the veterans and families gathered at PSU's Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11, alumnus Jim Bishop was not ashamed to admit that reflecting on his comrades lost in battle is an emotional subject.
But from the heartfelt well-wishes of his supporters who thanked him afterward, his words were exactly what they'd hoped to hear.
"This wall is a powerful icon for veterans," said Bishop, a 1965 graduate of PSU and local real estate broker. He paused to collect himself between sharing stories of friends whose names appear on the wall.
"It's not just names etched in black, but friends...buddies...comrades-in-arms. We respect what this refurbishment conveys."
The wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., had been a traveling exhibit before it was placed permanently at the PSU Veterans Memorial in 2004. This year a group of donors provided the $250,000 needed to replace the old panels, made of painted steel and faded by the elements, with new black granite.
Bishop, who served in the United States Air Force and was active duty from 1967-68, flew 238 combat missions over Vietnam. The initial impact of going into war hit him when he first went to jungle survival training in the Philippines. By the time he arrived at his base, it was under attack - and soon he was flying dangerous missions every day.
"To think you had a part in keeping the nation free and helping those who couldn't help themselves has to be a rewarding experience," he said. "We have so much freedom. And so many people paid the price."
As he reflected on the 58,000 names engraved on the wall, Bishop said he is proud to have helped lead the fundraising effort eight years ago that made the Veterans Memorial at PSU possible.
"When I think of the wall and my friends up there, I think they're the true heroes," he said. "I don't just think of sad moments. I think of the good times we had, how young they were. They paid with their lives. I cherish my thoughts about them."