It was 1970, and Mike and Janet Riffle packed up their car with everything they had and set out for San Diego, where Mike Riffle would be stationed in the Navy.
They had just been married, and all they had to their names was wedding gifts, $400 cash and their car. This was the beginning of a new life, and a lot, including the Vietnam War, was ahead of them.
They went Thursday to see the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the Kentucky Horse Park, and memories of their road trip, the war and the aftermath came to the forefront of their minds.
"This wall symbolizes everything," Mike Riffle said.
They came to find the name of Mike Riffle's childhood friend from Chillicothe, Ohio, and they were joined by dozens of other veterans and family members looking to pay respect to fallen loved ones.
The wall, a traveling exhibit that is almost as large as the actual wall in Washington, D.C., stretches 360 feet from end to end. The names of 1,104 Kentuckians, along with thousands of others who died during the war, are imprinted on the black stone.
People may visit it for free 24 hours a day until 3 p.m. Sunday, and volunteers will be there to help find the names of friends and relatives.
The stories of the dead vary, but they share common themes. Mike Riffle's friend, for example, was shot down in a helicopter. The friend of Kathy Hoff, who volunteered at the wall, died when she fell out of a jeep that was being shot at.
Stories of dogs that lived on base were also common threads among the veterans, along with memories of unrelenting heat, humidity and mosquitoes.
Danny Dunn, who went to Vietnam when he was 21, had a dog named Dirtball.
"Dirtball could hear those RPGs, and he would just run to the bunker," Dunn said.
Dirtball was a valued member of his group because he was always the first to hear incoming shells.
Dunn also had a pet lizard, though he never gave it a name. The lizard was also a valued member of the team, not because he could detect incoming fire, but because he kept the mosquitoes at bay.
"I said, 'If he ate one mosquito, that's one that doesn't eat me,'" Dunn said. "So I left him alone."
But the war, despite its anecdotes, created more unpleasant memories than pleasant ones. The heat and humidity were one thing, but the reminder of death was the hardest to deal with.
Dunn, from Glendale in Hardin County, found the name of high school friend Dennis Vance and used a pencil to trace the name onto a piece of paper to take home.
Many people traced names onto pieces of paper, and the reminders of lost friends mixed with other memories and stories from the war.
Dunn said he remembered when U.S. forces would drop napalm more than 10 miles away, and he could feel the lower parts of his legs start to burn. He remembers sitting on his helmet in a bunker, surrounded by the sounds of nearby mortars, thinking, "What would John Wayne do?"
And coming back home was often not much easier. Mike Riffle said protesters threw things at him and called him a baby killer.
"It was a pretty rough time to come back and see that," he said. "That really hurt."
Mike and Janet Riffle said they wanted to go the wall in Washington, but the distance and the price made it difficult. Being able to see the replica in Lexington was another part of the ongoing healing process, Mike Riffle said.
"The really helpful thing was talking to people who experienced what I experienced," he said. "There are still times when you think back to those times. You can't help it."