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Because memories linger

May 4th, 2016 ·1 Comment

THE MOVING VIETNAM WALL

On and on they go, not just the names, but the stories of people who have come to find a special name on a special wall in Washington D.C. Conceived in one veteran’s mind after seeing a movie – The Deer Hunter – and birthed in the controversy over its design – a black hole in the ground – the Vietnam Memorial has become one of the sacred spots in the nation’s, and its individual citizen’s, mind and heart. It is the most visited memorial in Washington D. C.

No disrespect is intended by the phrase, “black hole in the ground;” ironically, just as the Vietnam War was the focus of intense controversy, the architectural competition to determine what the monument would look like aroused strong feelings.

The winning design was that of Maya Ying Lin, a Yale architectural student at the time. She is has been cited as saying she intended it to be ”a quiet place, meant for personal reflection and reckoning.”

It became that, in the end, but the acrimony surrounding the design choice was so intense, that James Watt, Secretary of the Interior at the time, refused to issue a building permit for the memorial.

This wall in Washington D.C. started as a grass roots movement, initiated by  Jan C. Scruggs, the man who was reminded of the turmoil of the war by a movie – The Deerhunter. He was joined in his idea by Robert Doubek  and John Wheeler. He held at a press conference to kick off fund raising on May 28, 1979. It made the New York Times: “Vietnam Veterans to Seek $1 Million for a Monument.”

The next month, June, some poignant letters had come in with small donations, but “Roger Mudd reports wryly on the CBS Evening News that only $144.50 has been collected.”

They garnered the support of Sen. Charles Mathias jr. of Maryland and then Sen. John Warner of Virginia – who at the time was married to Elizabeth Taylor –  came on board. In July, 1981, one year after the announcement of the $144.50 collected, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to provide a site for the memorial.

It was finally  dedicated on November 13, 1982 and one opponent to its design, Milt Copulos, later admittedc that although “the wall of the memorial could have been a wall between us, it instead “became a bridge.”

Maya Ying Lin’s design was built in black granite deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. All cutting and fabrication was done in Barre, Vermont – the Granite State. Lin’s concept is “that while a visitor looks upon the wall, their reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, thereby bringing the past and present together.”

Now the right-angled black wall of gleaming granite stretching 493.5 feet and  etched with names – 58,249  of them – has been embraced by the country to the point that a half-size replica travels around the U.S., painstakingly erected and disassembled for each move by local groups, most often consisting of members of veteran’s organizations.

The idea for this wall that would travel around the country came from three veterans in California: John Devitt, Garry Haver and Norris Shears. It was another grassroots evolution and the three started out by pooling personal funds totaling a bit over $2,500.

Devitt, a helicopter crew chief in the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) called the project the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Mobile). But in 1985 a visitor drew on the two meanings of “moving” and dubbed it “The Moving Wall.”

The Moving Wall consists of 74 aluminum panels, treated with a highly-reflective gloss black polyurethane. And the names? The names are silk-screened on using the negatives of the original stencils made for the actual wall in Washington.

Completed on October 11, 1984, the Moving Wall was first erected on October 15, 1984 in Tyler, Texas and soon the request for visits necessitated the production of a second wall in 1987 and a third in 1989. The original wall has now been retired in 2001.

Information provided by the wall’s website says, “By 2006, there had been more than 1,000 hometown visits of The Moving Wall. The count of people who visited The Moving Wall at each display ranges from 5,000 to more than 50,000; the total estimate of visitors is in the tens of millions.”

The Wall in the Capitol and The Moving Wall were both paid for by donations from the public.

And the grassroots beginnings of both Walls is repeated with each visit to each town: money is raised and volunteers contribute work. This year for Chautauqua Days in Rome City, the Sylvan Lake Association is donating the money and Rome City American Legion Post 381 is putting it up.

Hours of work will have to be put in and the people who manage The Moving Wall know that it will take muscle and  preparation. They advice, in  terms that seem to reach beyond instruction to inspiration for a sacred task:
“After building the platform, have a few of your strongest people attempt to pull the platform from the ground. Let them pull hard, just as when a strong wind will put tremendous force on the platform.”

And they look out for the workers like soldiers watch our for each other:
“Driving the wooden stakes into the ground can be extremely hard work. Try to get a few young people to swing a 16 lb. sledge hammer. If the weather is hot, be sure to have plenty of cool water for the workers.”

And then there is the other side of volunteering. Jim Schueckler wrote of what the did when The Moving Wall came to  . . ..“My job as a volunteer “visitor guide” was to help people find names on the Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial. More importantly, I gave visitors a chance to talk. While searching the directory or leading a visitor to the name they sought, I would quietly ask “Was he a friend or a relative?” Over the six days, I began conversations that way with several hundred people. Only a handful gave me a short answer; almost everyone wanted to talk. Each had their own story to tell. For some, the words poured out as if the floodgates of a dam that had been closed for thirty years had just burst open. For others, the words came out slowly and deliberately between long pauses. Sometimes, they choked on the words and they cried. I also cried as I listened, asked more questions, and silently prayed that my words would help to heal, not to hurt.”

Local names could have been used in this story –  members of the American Legion, Sylvan Lake Association members, Chautauqaua Days planners, but the emphasis here is on the names on the monument. Those names, in their turn, blend together – no one more important than another.

Jan Scruggs, who began the journal for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial identified them further on Veteran’s Day, 1979, “I recently came across some lines from a poem by Archibald MacLeish, “The Young Dead Soldiers,” which may give that sacrifice some meaning: “They say: We were young. We have died. Remember us. ”
Jan C. Scruggs
November 11, 1979

My husband’s first cousin was killed in Vietnam; his name is on The Wall.
www.themovingwall.org/

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Pottermom // May 5, 2016 at 7:04 am

    Every time I am in D.C. I go to different monuments. The Lincoln monument is always the most packed, the Washington and Jefferson the least attended and the WW2 monument always filled with veterans of that war. The Korean memorial makes you feel like you are there especially if the day is foggy. Most are not sad places. They exhibit victory and pride. The Vietnam memorial is the most powerful. The silence that envelops the area and the very real grieving evident each day is tangible at the harsh crack emerging out of the ground. The memorial captures not only the stark reality of the death of so many but the way our country was cleaved in two by that war. I make it a habit to always go there now. As I walk along the wall each visit I choose a different name to find and search for. It is my small way to honor an unknown person and not let them be forgotten.

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