The Moving Wall is coming to Grayling to honor Vietnam veterans
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
In their continued efforts to recognize military personnel who served in the Vietnam War, Crawford County officials are honoring thousands of troops who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the country.
The Moving Wall, the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located in Washington, D.C., will be displayed in Grayling from Wednesday, July 19, to Monday, July 24, at the Crawford County Sports Complex, located at 5712 Fairground Lane.
The Crawford County Veterans Services Office initiated plans to display The Moving Wall in the community. Crawford County is paying $5,500 to bring the wall to Grayling as well as accommodations for the driver who transports the traveling memorial.
The American Legion Post #106 and Carl W. Borchers Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post #3736 are serving as co-hosts for The Moving Wall.
The memorial must be guarded 24/7; it requires a platform for the wall to sit on and a boardwalk will be built for people to the view the wall. Lighting for the wall must be provided during nighttime hours, and no vendors or sales can take place near the wall.
“I take my hat off to them,” said Crawford County Sheriff Kirk A. Wakefield of the local veteran’s service organizations. “They’re doing a great job.”
The idea of having a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital was prompted by Jan Scruggs. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Inc. was incorporated on April 27, 1979 in Washington, D.C. by a group of Vietnam veterans, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s website.
“(The veterans) lobbied Congress for a two-acre parcel of land in Constitution Gardens for the memorial. On July 1, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to provide a site in Constitution Gardens for the memorial near the Lincoln Memorial,” according to the site.
It took three and a half years to build the wall at a cost of $8.4 million with all financial contributions coming from the private sector. The memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982.
California native John DeWitt, a helicopter crew chief the First Calvary Division in Vietnam, attended the dedication. He and other Vietnam veterans came up with the idea of creating a replica of the memorial to keep alive the power and good experience from the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They were concerned that residents from the West Coast and other communities may never be able to travel to Washington, D.C. to view the memorial.
The replica of the memorial was completed in 1984. It has been displayed in communities throughout the country over the past three-plus decades.
The replica has been called The Traveling Wall and The Healing Wall; however, its official name is The Moving Wall.
Not only does The Moving Wall pay honor to men and woman who gave their lives in combat, it provides an opportunity to learn more about Vietnam.
“So many people have thought they have no connection to it. Then they come out and see the wall,” DeWitt said in an article published in 1990 included in the handbook for The Moving Wall. “For so long Vietnam was politics. Seeing the wall’s 58,244 names, representing casualties from 1959 to 1975, changes that.”
The first names on the wall are from troops killed in action in 1959, although some personnel serving as military advisors died serving in action prior to that. The last 18 casualties occurred on May 15, 1975 during a rescue operation to rescue a U.S. freighter and its crews.
The memorial is dedicated to the 2.7 million men and women who served in the U.S. Military in Vietnam.
As of January 1, 2017, there were 58,315 names listed on the wall.
Approximately 1,300 of these troops are still unaccounted for as prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIAs).
Last year, the Crawford County Veteran Services Office hosted a 50th Commemoration Ceremony for the Vietnam War as a long overdue homecoming to honor veterans and their families.
Five residents from Crawford County, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam, include: James Evart Blaauw, Carl Whilem Borchers, Robert Lawrence Fairbotham, Michael James Hatfield, and James Erwin Russ.
Crawford County Commissioner Rick Anderson, a member on the county’s veterans service advisory council, said bringing the Moving Wall is keeping with the theme to recognize Vietnam veterans.
“In my heart of hearts, I’ve always wanted the wall to come to Grayling,” Anderson said.
Anderson served as hospital corpsman with U.S. Navy/ U.S. Marine Corps in an area just south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Vietnam in 1969-70 with the First Battalion, 3rd Marines.
“They’re the first in and last out,” Anderson said.
The Moving Wall was previously in the community at Camp Grayling in June 1990. Now, post 9/11 security measures and the enforcement of threat levels at military installations limits public access to the base.
Anderson said that Grayling is blessed to bring the wall to the community.
“There are friends that are near and dear to me on the memorial that I remember that I tried to patch up,” he said. “Some were much more fortunate than the 58,315 names that are on that wall now.”
Anderson recalled a poor homecoming when veterans returned to the West Coast and were urged not to wear their uniforms.
Closer to home in Rose City, Anderson said he encountered no trouble wearing his uniform.
“It was a shock to basically be a veteran and you had to live through that era,” he said. “It was almost 10 years, we didn’t even mention that we served in Vietnam. You didn’t know who you were talking to, so you just kept your mouth shut.”
Wakefield, who is also on the veteran’s service advisory council for Crawford County, served two and a half tours in Vietnam with a U.S. Army Combat Engineers unit.
“It’s an emotional thing for me, because I am a Vietnam vet,” Wakefield said of having the wall in Grayling. “I had a couple friends that didn’t make it back. It hits your heart.”
Wakefield applauded the veteran’s service organizations and sponsors that are helping bring The Moving Wall to Grayling.
“We’ve had a lot of people step to the plate and help, which has been fantastic,” he said. “It will bring people in from all around here.”
Wakefield said the support for veterans shows that the community can band together to support one another in the good times and during bad moments.
“I’m proud to be in Graying. This community is awesome,” Wakefield said. “When things like this happen, people just come out of the woodwork and step up to the plate. That’s a good thing. When a real crisis happens and when something really bad happens, they’re going to come together and help.”
Leonard Nemeth, the commander of the VFW Post #3736, said all of its efforts were transferred from the community’s Fourth of July parade to bringing The Moving Wall to town.
“We all agreed that Fourth of July comes around every year, but the Vietnam wall doesn’t always come around,” Nemeth said. “Being a military town, you should have the backing from the veteran’s organizations, sponsors, and the community.”