Vietnam Veterans of America
Membership Notes, November/December 2019
In Wisconsin: High Fives & Pride
On a rainy day in Wisconsin, 218 motorcycle riders rode from a very small area of the state with a population of 15,000 to one of the larger areas with a population of 42,000. Chapter 731 of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, hosted The Wall That Heals during the week of September 12-16. By the time it was over, the sun was shining and 14,000 people had visited.
For those who have never been to D.C. to see The Wall, experiencing this memorial was revelatory. Veterans felt pride that they had served during the Vietnam War. Even those who had opposed the war were there—some whose perspectives had changed and some who had not. But everyone, no matter their views, thanked the veterans. For those who had been to D.C., the Wall That Heals brought the added dimension of being experienced as a community
It wasn’t only seeing the names of brother veterans, family members, and friends as visitors experienced the enormity of what The Wall represents, it was having a widely shared community experience of the losses and the healing that comes with The Wall That Heals. Chapter 731 is the only VVA chapter that hosted TWTH alone, without partners like the VFW or the Knights of Columbus, which speaks to the cohesiveness of community.
The process began in October of 2018. All members of the chapter were gung-ho, according to Marietta Johnson, an editor of the chapter’s newsletter, whose husband Terry (T.J.) is chapter president. When the group advertised on Facebook and on local radio, large numbers of people responded, some from many miles away. People were needed to help set up and break down The Wall; each panel weighs eighty pounds. A local construction company sent several workers to the site to help take down The Wall. Marietta Johnson said that setting up the Traveling Wall that the chapter sponsored several years ago was nothing like the major work this one took. Yet many were willing—indeed, proud—to help. More than ninety volunteers participated, as well as an impressive array of local businesses and associations.
The Wall presentation was held on the Manitowoc County Expo Grounds, which was donated for use by the director of the fairgrounds, herself a veteran. There was a broad green area, good parking, and an open, covered pavilion.
A motorcycle club, the Ant Hill Gang, which does charitable work, rented the Merchant Building as a donation. Chapter 351 in Appleton offered its collection of artifacts, as well as photos from then and now. Volunteers answered questions of all kinds. Local musicians played music of the Vietnam era.
Cathy Karl, co-editor of the chapter’s newsletter, coordinated the ceremonies held over the weekend. She had co-chairs for each ceremony:
Welcome Home: 50th anniversary pins were given to the four hundred veterans who came to the ceremony.
Candlelight Vigil: A sunset ceremony for the entire community. A large turnout helped make it an emotional event.
Remembrance Ceremony: In honor of the thirty-five local men who lost their lives in the war. Although not one mother is still living, cousins, siblings, aunts, and uncles came. Each veteran’s name was read out, and each family received a red rose.
The National Guard provided a helicopter on Sunday. Visitors were allowed inside the helicopter, which brought many memories for veterans while providing others a sense of the vulnerability of combat.
As with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., the Wall that Heals was lit at night, which visitors found deeply impressive. There’s a special power to The Wall at night.
“There was lots of high-fiving when it was over, a relief and a pride,” said Chapter 731 President Terry Johnson.
In Delaware: Peace for the Grieving
On a hot fall day, October 3rd, The Wall That Heals was trucked in from Dover, Del., to lower, slower Delaware. It remained at Ocean View for five days. Backed by Indian River Bay, the 146 interlocked panels etched with the names of more than 58,200 KIAs from the war in Vietnam stood proudly, inviting all to come, honor, and marvel. Named The Wall That Heals, its primary function is to offer healing and peace to those who remain troubled and grieving.
Although sponsored mainly by the local VFW post, Sussex County, Delaware, Chapter 1105 provided much of the heavy lifting and support. In fact, many members also belong to the VFW, so a strong camaraderie was already evident. The post auxiliary lent amazing grace and gentleness to the scene. Both organizations shared wreath-layings, the reading of names, and hospitality functions. The public program ended with the playing of “Taps.”
VVA 1105 members Mike Tuckman, Joe Moore, Mike Mallack, Bruce Graber, John Goddard, Dean Levering, Fulton Loppatto, Rodger Rose, Ray Stancill, Max Kopp, and Frank Bolen were among those who provided active support.
Stories were swapped, tears shed, and friendships reinforced. Public turnout was great. A special ceremony was held for those who died from war-related problems after coming home.
“In order to heal old wounds and to grieve,” VFW Post Commander Dean Levering said, “the Vietnam War must be faced and even embraced. This was the perfect event for old warriors to do just that.”
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