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July/August 2017
West Virginia State Council:
The West Virginia Mobile Wall and Rolling Thunder


© Xande AndererIt rained hard, sometimes hard enough to see for only a few feet. People’s mouths moved, but you could not hear words. Rain pelted the awning of the West Virginia State Council’s Mobile Wall. Many people stopped by to ask questions, to say thank you, to reminisce, or just to visit. Even more stood before the memorial, men with huge umbrellas, women with smaller ones, a rainbow of fabric domes. TV cameras wore plastic covers; plastic also covered children and strollers. There were many wet arms in the crowd from people reaching out beyond the umbrellas to touch the names.

The memorial was drenched with rain and, of course, many said that it was as if the sky were weeping. They stood and looked for names of people they knew etched into the black wall. People touched names in the rain, and even those who were crying were happy to be there.

West Virginia’s Mobile Wall had been set up for the Rolling Thunder/Run for the Wall ride-through just before Memorial Day. Dave Simmons, president of the West Virginia State Council, and Rod Farley, second vice-president, set up the display, set chairs under the awning, handed out water, promoted VVA and West Virginia, and talked to Rolling Thunder cyclists, as well as residents and tourists. People from around the country were there: Arizona, New Mexico, California, New York, Ohio. Some vets from Australia made it, too.

Nitro, West Virginia, a town of chemical plants, was the site of the Rolling Thunder pit stop. Usually this event is held in Hurricane, but the park there was being renovated. The town of Nitro stepped up to help.

A stage was set up in Nitro’s Living Memorial Park where large red clay tiles engraved with names of local veterans from World War I to Iraq lined the sides of the walkways. There were speakers, as well as a man dressed like the park’s statue of a World War I doughboy. The audience was large: grandparents, parents, dogs, tourists, and children waving flags. An Agent Orange-affected child told a joke with great pride and shyness. When the crowd laughed and applauded, he grinned.

Although there were several events, the Mobile Wall drew people. Somber and grateful, they approached the display and talked to each other and to Simmons and Farley about the war, where they served, and about the memorial itself.

The West Virginia Mobile Wall is smooth and shiny, and as black as the granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It forms a long, open “V” with a map of Vietnam etched into the first panel. Other panels hold the names of the West Virginia dead, 768 of them. While the names on The Wall are listed chronologically, on this memorial they are listed alphabetically. The end panel has the names of the state’s MIAs. A future section will hold the names of West Virginians who fought and died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflicts.

The panels of the West Virginia Mobile Wall are thin PVC plastic, designed for maneuverability. The panels are easily assembled using a system of metal pegs and rings. There are fourteen panels. They are transported in a large white van, each panel fitting into braces on the floor. The stepped stand for the panels breaks down into sections which fit into their own storage inside the trailer. Outside the van is a large medallion for the Mobile Wall. In addition, there is a medallion for the United Mine Workers, which supports the memorial, as well as for each of the service branches and the West Virginia State Council. Shelves inside the van contain VVA tee-shirts, pins, small statues, and other mementos and souvenirs.

The Mobile Wall is not finished. Speakers will eventually be set into it from which “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes will play as visitors approach. As they walk away, the music will stop.


The Motorcycles Arrive

After the rain stopped, the motorcycles arrived—everything from Harley-Davidsons to Hondas and Indians. Many bikers had signs and patches announcing tail gunners, chaplains, medical teams, and more. People stood on the sides of the streets, either solemn or cheering. Children waved small flags. From Nitro’s chemical plants white smoke roiled into the sky. It hung in long, dense clouds. People in Nitro had successfully sued Monsanto years ago for the poison the company, which manufactured Agent Orange, put into the ground and the air.

Just behind the Mobile Wall, a long line of bikers from Rolling Thunder stood before the open doors of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. The church provided lunch to the riders. Patches and pins of every shape and purpose covered denim jackets, declared for states and cities, for Vietnam, or defamed Jane Fonda.

The sky cleared to blue with white and silver clouds. Sunbeams streamed down onto mountains crowned in mist. Hot and humid now, the air filled with the fragrance of honeysuckle as tents were folded and chairs put away.

For information about the West Virginia Mobile Wall, call 304-248-8488 or 304-3663131, or go to www.westvirginiastatecouncilmobilewall.org




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