According to Michael Linehan, commander of the American Legion Nelson E. Pickwell Post #15 in Wilmington,“moving” not only refers to the wall’s physical abilities, but its emotional value. “It’s going to be very moving,” said Linehan. “When the wall comes here I imagine it will bring back good and bad memories of our fallen heroes, because there will be people in the area who see names they recognize on there.”
Wilmington Town Clerk Susie Haughwout had the idea of bringing the Moving Wall to Wilmington to coincide with the “Welcome home, Vietnam veterans” theme of last year’s Memorial Day program. Haughwout sent a sponsor application to the Moving Wall Organization three years ago, hoping to bring the wall to the valley. After no word back, Haughwout figured the town had not made the cut, but in February, she got a call from the Moving Wall Organization asking if the town was still interested. Haughwout knew the idea had never lost its relevancy, and that thanking Vietnam veterans is a belated necessity.
“There are people in this community who fought in Vietnam,” said Haughwout. “As I matured I learned more about what went on there, and I saw that our veterans served as honorably there as my father did in World War II, but they never got thanked.”
Haughwout spoke to Linehan and Post #15, who made a $1,500 contribution toward the $4,500 cost of bringing the wall to town. Donations began to come in as the Masons, Rotary Club, and Knights of Columbus all made donations along with the towns of Wilmington and Dover, and the Wilmington Fund VT. The project has raised $9,000 thus far, and has expanded to include other events at the site.
Linehan says that the Vietnam veterans of Post #15 are looking forward to the wall’s arrival. “As you know, some of our Vietnam and World War II veterans are aging and are not able to travel much anymore,” said Linehan. “The ability of the wall to travel to Wilmington and come to them is great.”
Linehan is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and says the honor and thanks he and his fellow soldiers received from Vietnam veterans upon returning home is something he would like to give back. “When we came back they came out in hordes to say thank you, because they wanted to squash what happened to them and make it a good thing for those coming back. So when I heard about this, I thought it would be a great way to say thank you and honor them.”
The Moving Wall Organization requires that the wall be placed at an angle no less than 90 degrees and no more than 125 degrees. The sponsors must hire security, put up lighting, and build the wall’s foundation, as well as provide housing for the wall’s driver. Haughwout says donations and volunteers are still needed.
The wall’s four-day residency on Howe Field will also include a visit from the Vermont Vietnam Veterans Association, on June 14 and 15, to provide counseling and help veterans sign up for benefits. The Living History Association will also have an encampment at the site with a Vietnam-era hospital tent and artifacts from the war.
Leonard Derby, a Halifax resident and president of the Vietnam Veterans Association of America’s Brattleboro chapter, has seen the moving wall visit the region eight times, and believes it gives the public a better understanding of a war that ended over 40 years ago. “The moving wall is one of the best things the country ever came up with to honor Vietnam veterans,” said Derby. “To see those names all at once is overwhelming, but for the Vietnam vet, it’s a sense of healing.”
Coming home from Vietnam, Derby said he and his brothers in arms were not looked at as heroes, and the wall helps to make that right. “For many vets, the homecoming was not a nice one. For other wars the country rolled out the red carpet,” said Derby. “This country has come a long way in this respect. We were abandoned by the World War II veterans when we came home, and we will not let that happen to the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.”
The American Legion is seeking community volunteers for the event to assist with construction and assembly of the wall, staffing, landscaping, lighting, and more. For more information on how to volunteer in any capacity or to donate contact Susie Haughwout at (802) 464-5836 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can also be directed to Richard Schwarz, Treasurer, Post #15, 101 Route 100, West Dover, VT 05356.