“The Moving Wall” is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The idea for a moveable Wall came from veteran John Devitt who had attended the Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedication in 1982. He had a powerful reaction to the Wall. “When you approach the Memorial, you don’t recognize what’s going on. It’s a visual experience that words cannot describe. . . Then suddenly, 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.”
He realized that some people will never have the opportunity to travel to the nation’s capital and experience the power of the Wall. So he, along with Norris Shears, Gerry Havers, and other Vietnam veterans, decided to build a replica of the memorial that could tour the country. In October 1984, “The Moving Wall” first went on display in Tyler, Texas.
I found out about this traveling memorial a day before I went. To be honest, I was skeptical. I had been to D.C. and felt the emotions of the official memorial. Could a scale replica move me as much as the original? I do not not know anyone on the Wall. A few relatives of mine served in Vietnam but their names are not on the Wall. Before leaving to see the memorial, I decided to find the name of Timothy Robinson (I had posted one of his letters from the front on the website). A fellow Minnesotan, Timothy was killed in action a little more than a month into his tour.
Like the D.C. memorial, a person can find the name of a fallen soldier on “The Moving Wall” and rub it onto a sheet of paper. As your fingers touch the engraved names, with crosses (MIA) or diamonds (KIA) next to them, your face is reflected on the smooth black panels. You become part of the Wall and the fallen become part of you. I have been to the Wall in D.C. with my high school class. While young, I did feel that visceral reaction that Devitt had at the dedication. You can not help but feel overwhelmed. A profound sense of loss strikes your core. Even with a replica, one feels similar emotions. It’s the names. There are so many of them.
After I found Timothy Robinson’s name in the book, I went to search the Wall. The over 58,000 names are listed in chronological order according to the day they were killed. It starts with the date of 1959 in the middle of V-shaped Wall with the words: “IN HONOR OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES WHO SERVED IN THE VIETNAM WAR. THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES AND OF THOSE WHO REMAIN MISSING ARE INSCRIBED IN THE ORDER THEY WRE TAKEN FROM US.” From the middle, it extends out to the end of the east wall before resuming at the end of the west wall, making its way to the middle. The Wall ends with the date of 1975 and the inscription “OUR NATION HONORS THE COURAGE, SACRIFICE AND DEVOTION TO DUTY AND COUNTRY OF ITS VIETNAM VETERANS. THIS MEMORIAL WAS BUILT WITH PRIVATE CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. NOVEMBER 11, 1982” at the bottom.
Timothy Robinson is located on Panel 51E, Row 1. A volunteer helped me find him. He served in Vietnam – he did not have a jacket with patches or a hat that denoted his veteran status. It was his eyes that gave him away. They were the sort that held a fair share of stories – none of which had a “happily ever after” at the end. He asked me if I was related to the name on my piece of paper. I said that I was not. His brow shot up, a quizzical look in his eyes. “I read a letter of his once, in a book,” I responded with a shrug. “He wrote his family a few days before he was killed. I thought I would find him.” A slight smile on his lips, the volunteer thought that must have been as good of a reason as any.
We found Timothy and I rubbed his name on a sheet of paper. Traced my fingers over the diamond by his name. I stepped back and stared at the panel. I find that these places – the memorials for those lost – tend to have you thinking about life and the unfairness of it all. That this young man, who seemed so very excited for life in his letters home, could not wait to get home and “marry the girl I love.” Or that the volunteer with the sad, heavy eyes came home but had the burden of the stories, the memories.
“The Moving Wall”, while on panels and not dug into the ground as the official Wall is, evokes the same feelings. If it comes to town near you, I would recommend going. It tells the story of Vietnam in those 58,000 names. As you stand in front of a panel of names, it dares you to try and brush it off. You can not. It is just not possible.