Earl Bennis stood on the tips of his sneakers and stretched up to brush his fingers across a name etched in the glossy black stone: Marine Corps. Capt. Clancy Drake.
"I'm glad I came," Bennis, 73, said, smiling and remembering his friend killed more than 50 years ago.
Drake's name is one of 58,318 that fill a traveling ¾-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., now erected on the grounds of the Capitol in St. Paul. An opening ceremony Thursday morning drew Bennis and about 100 others to pay tribute, laying flowers at the base of the memorial and sharing stories of fallen friends. The memorial, called "The Wall That Heals," and an affiliated mobile education center are open to the public until 3 p.m. on Sunday.
The wall's stop in St. Paul is part of a larger initiative spearheaded by Minnesota Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) called Minnesota Remembers Vietnam. Twin Cities PBS-TPT public television organized the wall's visit and other weekend events including an open forum for veterans on Friday, personal stories and music on Saturday, and film screenings throughout the weekend.
Jim Pagliarini, president and CEO of Twin Cities PBS, said he can't remember being involved in a project so unanimously embraced. To bring the wall to St. Paul, the station enlisted the help of state legislators, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, veterans' organizations and several foundations.
"There was a unifying message that I heard when I talked to people," Pagliarini said. "And that was, 'The time is now to honor, remember and understand.' "
Bagpipes and National Guard processions marked the opening ceremony on the lawn of the Capitol as the crowd listened from rows of folding chairs.
The wall, speakers and attendees said, gives people a chance to confront the pain of the past. Many of Thursday's visitors wiped away tears as they listened to stories of service members.
"For me this memorial wall is important and meaningful because the country has to make amends for the way we treated our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen and our Marine Corps who returned from service during those years," said state Sen. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Township.
Former WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby, who hosted the ceremony, said he said he realized the initiative had broad community support while he was at a fundraiser.
When a woman offered a donation, someone asked her connection to Vietnam, Shelby said. He remembered her saying: "I protested the war in Vietnam, but I want to do something for those who fought."
Having the wall in Minnesota can bring people together, Shelby said — young and old, veterans and protesters, an entire community trying to understand the past.
For those like Bennis from St. Louis Park, it's an opportunity to pay tribute, not only to his friend Drake, but also to thousands of other names bound by a common connection.
"Never met him. Don't what branch he is," Bennis said, pointing to another name on the wall. "But he's a brother."