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Layton’s Vietnam memorial attracting visitors from near, far

July 21, 2018 GMT

LAYTON — For Ray and Shelagh Christensen, the recently dedicated Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Layton has dual meaning.

Approximately 80 percent the size of the original national Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., the replica wall sits on the northeast corner of Layton Commons Park, 437 N. Wasatch Drive.

Like the wall in Washington, the 360-foot long Davis County memorial features the names (etched in stone) of all 58,000-plus Americans who died fighting in Vietnam.

RELATED: Massive Layton Vietnam Memorial to open in July

The Christensens spent Thursday morning scanning the wall, thinking about all that it signifies.

As a Navy man in 1962, Ray Christensen spent time in Vietnam during the early stages of the conflict. Coming of age when the war was at the forefront of the collective American consciousness, the couple knew many friends and relatives who also served in the war.

“It definitely was a big part of my life at one point,” Ray Christensen said. “Really, it was for anybody growing up during that time. When you see all these names, here in one place, it all hits home.”

But when the Christensens visit the wall, American sacrifice in Vietnam represents only a portion of their rumination. The couple also reflects on the life and death of their son,  Ryan Todd Christensen.

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A specialist in the U.S. Army, Ryan Christensen served in Iraq. He was killed in 2014 during a motor pool accident at Fort Riley in Kansas. He was 29.

“One of the guys that was driving one of the big rigs fell asleep and ran him over,” Shelagh Christensen said. “It was a hard thing for us.”

Ryan Christensen’s name is emblazoned in one of many bricks at the base of the wall. The bricks were sold during the fundraising process for the nearly $500,000 wall. The Christensens, who live in Layton, say they plan to visit the site often.

“This is a special place for us already,” Shelagh Christensen said. “We can come and see all of these names and then see our son’s brick. All the people on this wall gave their lives and so did our son.”

Since the wall was dedicated during a large ceremony on July 14, it’s seen a steady stream of visitors, according to Dennis Howland, president of the Northern Utah chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America and the man who spearheaded the project.

Twin Falls, Idaho, residents Lynn and Mary Graham also visited the wall on Thursday. 

“It’s spectacular,” said Lynn Graham, an Air Force Vietnam veteran. “I’ve looked up several friends and really couldn’t keep a dry eye. It brings those memories back — all the sacrifices that were made. It helps you remember all the friends you had that went over there and never came back.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 28,000 Utahns served in Vietnam and more than 50,000 Vietnam veterans live in Utah today.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/MitchShaw.StandardExaminer.