A walk along The Wall

 

1606 F Vietnam2 ATTV

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute, pictured here, is the largest traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial in the United States. It will travel to eight states this summer, including a stop in Marquette for five days. Set up outside the Superior Dome, the AVTT will be available to the public for viewing and reflection. (Photo courtesy of American Veterans Traveling Tribute)Since its controversial 1982 unveiling in Washington, D.C., over 100 million people have walked the 495-foot- long Vietnam Veterans Memorial which honors the 9 million Americans who were on active duty during the Vietnam War, and the nearly 60,000 who lost their lives there.

 

By Larry Chabot

Since its controversial 1982 unveiling in Washington, D.C., over 100 million people have walked the 495-foot- long Vietnam Veterans Memorial which honors the 9 million Americans who were on active duty during the Vietnam War, and the nearly 60,000 who lost their lives there.

Now, because so many people will never see that iconic wall, it comes to them.

At least four different replicas are tour- ing the country. The biggest one, the American Veterans Traveling Tribute (AVTT), is coming to Marquette June 22 through 26 to be displayed outside of the Superior Dome. The chief sponsor is the Marquette County Veterans Alliance, rep- resenting Marquette, Alger, Baraga and Dickinson counties. Owned and operated by veterans, the AVTT has set up in over 300 places in the last eight years. Its mis- sion is to honor all military men and women, living and deceased, with a spe- cial emphasis on paying respects to those of the Vietnam era.

Vietnam had been divided in two in the mid-1950s after a successful revolution against the French colonial government. The subsequent Vietnam War, an unde- clared conflict which raged from 1964 to 1975, was actually a civil war between communist North Vietnam and demo- cratic South Vietnam. The fight drew out- side forces that claimed a stake in the out- come: would communism spread or would democracy stifle its advance?

The United States began sending mili- tary advisers to help the South Vietnamese military in the event of hostilities. By the mid-1960s, American military forces were arriving in increasing numbers. From 50,000 soldiers in 1964, American involvement eventually reached a peak of 500,000. The remoteness of the war and

the mounting casualties turned a large portion of the American population against the war, which resulted in civil unrest. The last troops left the country in 1975 and communism spread over the land.

The American dead are honored on the wall replica coming to Marquette. Event coordinator Will Weycker said the travel- ing wall may bring closure for unhealed emotional wounds, as well as educate the public on the enormity of the human sac- rifice which the wall represents. For sever- al years, returning veterans were subjected to scorn and abuse from many quarters.

“Lots of vets have pent-up emotions which they suppressed when they came home,” Weycker said. “When they see names on the wall—guys they knew, guys they served with—the wall can be a mech- anism for the release of those emotions. It’s happened many times. If anyone needs them, we will have bereavement counselors there.”

Almost full-size

The AVTT wall, on the road to eight states this year, comes to Marquette from Wisconsin before visiting Indiana. At 360 feet long and 8 feet high in the center, it’s 80 percent of the original wall’s size. The names are etched into panels, from which the viewers can make rubbings (by placing paper over a name and “rubbing” it with a pencil).

The schedule and site are designed to be welcoming for veterans, their families and the public. The Marquette event begins on Wednesday, June 22, when a large escort force will meet the incoming wall vehicles at the junction of US-41 and M-95 (“Koski’s Corner”) near Champion. Several motorcycle groups—as many as 200 bikes are expected—will join a law enforcement escort. Because of the ongo- ing roundabout construction on US-41 in Ishpeming, the cavalcade will detour through downtown Ishpeming and Negaunee, proceed to Marquette where it will pass the Jacobetti Home for Veterans on Fisher Street, and wend its way up Third Street to the Superior Dome site.

Among the program highlights are a 6 p.m. opening ceremony on June 23, along with a history tribute at the dome and a veterans rally at the Legion Post on June 24. There will also be a massed veterans march to the wall at 10 a.m on June 25 fol- lowed by a tribute with 15 color guard units. The visit ends with a closing cere- mony on June 26.

Jim Provost, chair of the four-county veterans alliance, said special lighting will permit round-the-clock visitation, with the colors posted at all times. Seven tents will be erected at the site; the biggest is a 60-by-120-foot enclosure that includes a stage for the ceremonies. A 20-by-40-foot tent will house history and military mem- orabilia, another is for veterans’ organiza-

tions and a locator tent managed by Jim’s wife, Judy will assist people in locating names on the wall. Computer disks, a computer and two hard-copy books will help with the searches.

For Jim Provost, who has walked the Washington wall three times, the replica is very personal. Among the honored names on its panels are friends, military buddies and his cousin David Dellangelo of Negaunee, who was killed in Vietnam in 1968 at age 22.

The original still draws

The Washington wall, like its replicas, venerates service members who fought in the war, died there or are still missing. The memorial actually has three separate parts: the wall itself, the Three Servicemen Memorial and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

After architect Maya Lin’s proposal was announced as the winner from more than 2,500 submissions, it brought sharp criti- cism from many quarters, and from the highest government and military levels. Opponents hated the two-wing layout, the black stone and the lack of color to relieve the eye. Criticism eventually faded, and now the wall is among the most popular destinations in our nation’s capitol, draw- ing 3 million people a year.

Jan Scruggs who first proposed the memorial as a tribute to all who served in Vietnam, said the wall “has become some- thing of a shrine.” He personally started the fund-raising drive with $2,800 from his own pocket.

Physically, the big wall consists of two 247-foot long walls of 72 panels each, which are etched with the names of the dead. The panels are 10 feet high in the middle, where the sections meet at a 125- degree angle, and taper to a blank, 8-inch- high panel at each end.

One wing points to the Washington Monument, the other to the Lincoln Memorial. People looking directly at the  wall can see their own reflections. The polished black granite, chosen for its reflectibility, came from India; stone cut- ting took place in Vermont; names were etched in Tennessee.

At dedication time, the wall listed 57,939 Americans who were considered war casualties. Since then, nearly 400 more have been certified for listing; the most recently posted total is 58,307 (including eight women) as of May 2015. Directories on stands contain the location of each name, which are arranged on the wall itself by date of death, and then alphabetically within the date. Because names don’t flow chronologically from left to right (for example, the first and last casualties are near each other in the middle), the direc- tories are critical to a search. A small dia- mond next to a name indicates “killed, body recovered” and a plus sign means “killed, body not recovered,” which equates to “missing in action.” Several web sites (like www.thewall-usa.com) list all of the names, and some provide photos and service records.

During the wall’s 30th anniversary memorial in 2012, all the names were read aloud in a 65-hour marathon by a series of 2,000 speakers from families, veterans groups and military officials, like Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund founder Jan Scruggs and his wife. Readings spanned 19 hours a day, beginning at 5 a.m., over four days. Similar readings have taken place four other times since the 1982 dedication.

The effect of the continuous, seemingly endless roll call of people who once lived among us can be daunting. One architect, who designed the Three Servicemen Memorial, said, to him, the wall was “over-

whelming and nearly incomprehensible in the sweep of names.”

This phenomenon often brings a rush of emotions, torrents of tears, much point-

ing and touching, countless photograph- ing and rubbing and the placing of a mountain of memorabilia at the base of the wall: flowers, food, photos, letters,

books, boots, dog tags, flags and medals, POW/MIA bracelets, religious items, even a homemade motorcycle. Each day, rangers from the National Park Service remove the accumulated items for storage and eventual showcasing.

The Veterans Alliance Planning Group is pictured. From left, Mike Rutledge, Welles the service dog, Jim Provost, Judy Provost, George LaBlonde, Will Wicker and Craig Salo. The group is coordinating events to coincide with the AVTT. (Photo courtesy of Judy Provost)

The Veterans Alliance Planning Group is pictured. From left, Mike Rutledge, Welles the service dog, Jim Provost, Judy Provost, George LaBlonde, Will Wicker and Craig Salo. The group is coordinating events to coincide with the AVTT. (Photo courtesy of Judy Provost)

Among the traveling and fixed-based walls are permanent units in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, New Jersey and Oregon, and traveling units like The Wall That Heals (a half-size replica), Dignity Memorial Wall (three-quarters scale), the Brevard County (Florida) three-fifths scale replica and the Moving Wall (half- scale, with a U.P. connection).

The Moving Wall has two units that are stored over the winter months in a White Pine Mine building in Ontonagon County. When Vietnam veteran John Devitt wit- nessed the 1982 dedication in Washington, he felt the powerful emotions aroused by the memorial and decided to make copies for people who would other- wise never see it. He and other veterans built three replicas, based them in California, and took them on the road, with the first display in Tyler, Texas, in 1984.

After several trips to the U.P. (one Moving Wall worker has Ishpeming ties), they fell in love with the beauty and pace of the area, and found that storage costs were a fraction of those in California. The two walls are refurbished during the win- ter before going on tour from April through November. (A third copy was donated for permanent display at Pittsburg State College in Kansas). In 2016, the walls will visit 40 sites through- out the country. These replicas also move viewers to leave mementos, which Devitt plans to put on display.

The U.P. felt the war’s impact; records at the Jacobetti Veterans Home at the time its veterans honor wall was dedicated listed 115 U.P. fatalities in Vietnam. By county, they are: Alger 5, Baraga 3, Chippewa 14, Delta 13, Dickinson 6, Gogebic 6,

Houghton 18, Iron 6, Keweenaw 1, Luce 6, Mackinac 2, Marquette 11, Menominee 11, Ontonagon 11 and Schoolcraft 2. Organizers of the Marquette event plan on reading the names of the dead from the four sponsoring counties: Alger, Baraga, Dickinson and Marquette.

Mindful of the emotional stresses on veterans and their families, and the need for society to deal with these war-induced stresses, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will sponsor a six-week education program for military families and friends called “Homefront.” The course helps family members understand and support their loved ones while helping them to maintain their own well-being. Course teachers have all experienced the military culture.

Local NAMI activists Judith Krause and Lorna Hanks have completed the training and will conduct the program in Marquette this coming fall, focusing on the unique needs of the military and veter- ans. For more information on this, contact Krause at 362-6679

On a personal note, our family visited the Washington wall twice. The long walk began on higher ground. The top of the wall is even with the ground behind it; one walks past the panels on a gentle downs- lope. The first panel is blank, the slightly taller second one has a few names, the third is more crowded, and so on, until you pass 36 panels and are at the bottom in front of a 10-foot high panel. Then there is the long slow, upslope walk past 36 more panels until the wall fades out. There is a continuous rush of names—hundreds and hundreds— names of real people who lived among us. As we walked along, glancing at the names, our eyes chanced on that of our neighbor, Lt. William Pierpont of White Pine, killed in Vietnam November 12, 1969.

Scruggs described the wall experience best: “As the words inscribed on the Wall come into focus, it’s so subtle, you’re drawn in and it’s too late. . . You’re riveted and the emotions just pour forth.”

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