NEWBURY – Not everyone has the means or the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, which is why the movable wall that arrived at Plum Island Airport last week is so special.
The half-size replica of the memorial will remain at the airport until 7 a.m. on Tuesday
The movable wall was built in the early 1980s by John Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver and other Vietnam War veterans who felt the need to share the memorial experience with people across the country who might not be able to travel.
For more than 30 years, the wall has toured the United States, offering people the chance to see more than 58,000 names on the memorial in Washington, DC
The wall drew more than 1,000 people on Friday and nearly 1,300 on Saturday.
Dennis Palazzo, the local organizer of Moving Wall and president of Yankee Homecoming, said he expects to see nearly 1,500 on Sunday.
In addition to honoring the more than 58,000 people listed on the memorial, the wall serves as a way to bring people together – even foreigners – he said.
âPeople bond over this and meet people they would never have met before,â said Palazzo, explaining how veterans were able to exchange stories and feel a sense of community in a way they might not have known otherwise.
The memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day. Palazzo saw people pass by and sit on the benches at 2 a.m.
“We are just here to honor the veterans, both those who are alive and who are deceased,” he said.
Some of the heroes of Greater Newburyport at the memorial include Freddie N. Chase and Robert K. Parker, both of Newburyport, Donald A. Wilkinson of Newbury, Douglas J. Kelly of Salisbury, William B. Justin of Amesbury, Frederick V. Seaborne of Merrimac, Stephen E. Krajeski and William R. Ryan, both of Groveland, and Peter R. Turcotte of Rowley.
Garrett Green of Lowell, who served twice in Vietnam between August 1968 and August 1970, was Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class in the US Navy.
He has never been to the Washington Memorial or seen any of the traveling aftershocks. On Sunday, he visited The Moving Wall for the first time, saying recent events in Afghanistan and around the world gave him a reason to finally see it, rain or not.
Green, who Palazzo pinned on Sunday with a Vietnam Veteran pin, does not regret his overseas service.
On his first tour of Vietnam, he served on the USS New Jersey, which was later decommissioned and converted into a museum ship in Camden, New Jersey. On his second tour he transported goods and supplies on a river boat.
Green continues to attend meetings aboard the ship. His name is even inscribed in brick on a jetty that overlooks the Delaware River between Philadelphia and where the USS New Jersey museum ship is located.
When asked what he hopes people take away from their experience at The Moving Wall, Green said it is about “awareness” and paying attention to what is going on in the world.
“With everything going on in Afghanistan, people are really starting to pay attention,” he said.
Regardless of political affiliation, Green thinks it’s important for people to have a better understanding of the world in general.
The 156 Moving Wall volunteers worked in shifts 24 hours a day. Most of them arrive early and stay late, not wanting to leave.
Volunteer supervisor Peter Houvouras said he spent about half an hour wiping the wall on Friday, which is a way to keep the panels waxed and clean.
As he wiped the wall, he began to read each name, aloud or to himself.
Houvouras even apologized as he went along, acknowledging that he might not pronounce everyone’s name correctly.
âI knew what I was doing, but I wasn’t really imbibing myself,â he said.
However, as he walked home from the wall, a thought struck Houvouras: “I just erased 58,000 names.”
Just acknowledging that all of those lives had been lost, after saying each of their names aloud, he collapsed crying.
So while his volunteer shift ends each day, he often feels the need to stay. Every time he pulls away from the wall, “I feel like it’s pulling me back,” he says.
A veteran put it in perspective for him, telling Houvouras: “You look at them” – as in the names inscribed on the wall – “but they look at you back. “
âI never thought of it that way,â he said.
Another volunteer, Lori Sousa from Lowell, lost her father, Mike Zimmerman, a Vietnam veteran, in 2015. He died of cancer linked to exposure to Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide used by the US military to destroy trees and crops in Vietnam.
After her death, Sousa knew she needed to “fill the gap” of her departure, so she began volunteering for Vietnam aftershocks events including The Wall That Heals and The Traveling Wall. This was her fourth time volunteering for such an event and she already has more opportunities planned in the future.
In 2016, Zimmerman was inducted into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund program in memory, which recognizes Vietnam veterans who died from exposure to Agent Orange, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder. , suicide and other causes related to their service.
This has provided Sousa with a way to honor her father and she strives to encourage other families and friends to do the same.
For more information about the program, visit www.VVMF.org. To learn more about the wall, visit www.themovingwall.org.