A chance to say 'thank you'
The Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., gives area residents an opportunity to honor those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War
Carlie Wilson | Staff Writer
The Moving Wall is phenomenal because these are people that paid the ultimate sacrifice, these are the people that gave this nation their freedom. It means a lot to me that you can read the names on the Wall of the people who paid the price so that we can remember.” – Steve Rollins of the United States Navy
Thank you. Two simple words, a polite gesture. For men and women who have served, “thank you” can carry a different weight.
Last week, the Moving Wall – a half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. – made a stop in Grayling for a few days, giving area residents and veterans an opportunity to remember and honor those who served and lost their lives in the Vietnam War, a conflict that lasted from 1955 until 1975.
“They never got a thank you,” said Steve Rollins of the United States Navy and a veteran of the Iraqi War. “Unlike the many veterans of the war, these men and women on the wall didn’t get to come home. The veterans that did were not thanked either. They had to change their uniforms in the airports when they came home, otherwise they’d get mobbed. They had to be as covert as possible about serving our nation.”
The Moving Wall arrived in Grayling on Wednesday, July 19, greeted by a gathering of veterans and spectators near the American Legion. The wall, after being set up, was on display at the Crawford County Fairgrounds until July 24.
The Moving Wall has the names of nearly 58,300 men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including nearly 3,000 Michigan soldiers killed in action during the Vietnam War. Among those 3,000 are the names of six Grayling men.
North Central Area Credit Union and Northland Area Federal Credit Union, in partnership with the American Legion, donated wreaths to honor the six men. Their names are: James Evart Blaauw, Carl Wilhelm Borchers, Robert Lawrence Fairbotham, Michael James Hatfield, James Erwin Russ, and Donald Allen Smith.
“Now we get the opportunity to let them come out and be satisfied for what they did for this country, whether they got drafted or they just enlisted because they felt the need. Now we can say thank you for what they did, thank you for all of your heartache, toils, and struggles. Now we can honor the dead,” said Rollins.
The mission of the Moving Wall is to bring peace and comfort to veterans of the Vietnam War who can’t make it to the full-size Vietnam Memorial in the nation’s capital, and for the families whose loved ones didn’t make it home.
“The Moving Wall is phenomenal because these are people that paid the ultimate sacrifice, these are the people that gave this nation their freedom. You have to remember that this nation was not given to us by politicians or ambassadors, or county clerks, or any of these types; it was given to us by soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, all of the branches of the military,” said Rollins. “Think about the Revolutionary War, it was the soldiers who gave us this land, and every war since then, we’ve been given what we have by the soldiers who fought for us. It was the military who kept freedom alive in this country. It means a lot to me that you can read the names on the Wall of the people who paid the price so that we can remember.”
The life of an active-duty soldier can be difficult.
“What average citizens don’t understand is that you don’t always get to eat every day, it’s hotter than Hades outside, you’re wearing 90 pounds of gear, you are getting shot at,” Rollins said. “It’s a miserable experience but we made it through, and of course some of us didn’t.”
“Now to see it come full circle with people recognizing the heartache that comes from it, it’s a humbling experience,” said Rollins.
In the words of an unnamed poet, “The American Flag does not fly because the wind moves past it. The American Flag flies from the last breath of each military member who has died protecting it.”
“That’s the gravity of it. That flag means a lot more to me than maybe the average person. I mean, I don’t know, I can’t judge anybody, but to me that flag means everything,” Rollins said. “People have died for these freedoms; freedom is not free. There’s 58,300 men and women on that wall that prove that freedom is not free,” Rollins said.