At 8 a.m. Thursday morning, American Legion Riders, Post 69, with flags flying, escorted the Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to Dunne Park in Hollister. It was an emotional moment for many of the veterans, but in particular for Bernie Ramirez, commander of VFW Post 9242.
“The names of seven men from Hollister are on that wall,” Ramirez said. “I knew three of them and went to school here in Hollister with two of them. One died right in front of me during a firefight.”
Ramirez served in the Army in 1969-70, with the 9th Infantry Division, 3/5 Cav Black Knights, in Dung Ha. He remembers their names and the day they died—May 8, 1969—and what panel they’re on. Every time he has a chance to see the Moving Wall, he visits them. “The last time I stayed for hours,” he said. “I just couldn’t leave.”
Ramirez can’t help but be emotional about the wall. He was 20 in 1969, but it seems like yesterday.
“I was talking to my wife this morning that it’s like going to a funeral of a loved one,” he said. “Especially for myself as a combat veteran. I hope people will come out with their families and their children to educate them about all those men and women who died in Vietnam. It’s a very special wall.”
The Moving Wall, according to its website, is a half-size replica of the Washington, D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After attending the 1982 dedication, John Devitt, of San Jose, wanted to share the experience with those who could not travel to Washington. Devitt, Norris Shears and Gerry Haver, all Vietnam vets, along with other vets who volunteered, built the Moving Wall and it first went on display in Tyler, Texas, October 1984. There are actually two Moving Walls now traveling throughout the country.
“Joe Love approached me to see if the city would be able to lend us the park for the three days and that he would make contact with the Moving Wall people,” said Ray Friend,a Hollister city councilman and member of American Legion Post 69. “We’ve been working for three days now getting the foundation set up. The volunteers are helping this morning setting it up and then there will be a flag raising ceremony at 1 p.m.”
Friend said people should come see the wall out of respect for those who served in Vietnam.
“If you know somebody or have a relative on the wall it’s kind of a sign of respect and you can etch the name on the wall and remember the experience,” he said
Joe Love, commander of American Legion Post 69, said that last 4th of July he was talking with Hollister Police Chief David Westrick, who said it would be nice if they could bring something special, like the Moving Wall, to Hollister for the rally.
“I took it on as a mission and said I’d get it here,” Love said. “I contacted them last November and got a response in January. We got the contract taken care of around April.”
Love said he began canvassing the city for donors to pay the $5,000 fee for bringing the wall to Hollister.
“We got a $2,500 donation from the San Benito Veterans Council. The American Legion is picking up the remainder, but we’re still hoping for some donations,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll have some functions to pay for it.”
Love said that the KIA Honor Flag Corp. donated more than $1,500 in flag poles and 30 flags.
For 11 years Lisa Gray and her husband Aaron have left their home in White Pine, Michigan to travel most of the year with the Moving Wall as they stop at some 30 cities throughout the nation.
“It took about two years to construct,” she said. “There are 58,306 names on the wall in Washington because they just added six names. This one gets updated every year when we go home in November.”
The wall was originally funded by Devitt, Shears and Haver. Now, each city that sponsors a visit pays $5,000, plus hotel expenses. She said there are so many cities that want it to come that some have been waiting as long as five years.
The route Aaron picks twists and turns throughout the country.
“He tries to keep the distance between stops under 1,000 miles,” Gray said. “Last week we were at Rock Springs, Wyoming. We were going to Long Beach, California next, but they canceled. So far this year, we’ve been in Indiana, South Carolina, and then we headed to the West Coast. Our next stop will be Portland, Oregon.”
Gray said traveling with the Moving Wall is more than just a job, especially for Aaron.
“He’s a vet and served from 1996 to 2002,” she said, adding that he was an Army Ranger. He had been working as a truck driver hauling coal when the couple met Devitt, who had moved from San Jose to Michigan. They hit it off right away and the couple traveled with Devitt for a few weeks until they were offered the job.
“The coal business was shutting down, so it worked out,” she said. “It’s never been a money thing. Aaron’s doing it in honor of the vets who went before him.”
In addition to the traveling memorial this weekend, there is also Camp Patriot, a display of military equipment from World War II. Retired Army Warrant Officer James Bundgaard was setting up the display as the Moving Wall arrived.
“I started this while I was in the service,” Bundgaard said of the display. “When I retired I realized that there was a demand for it, so I reconstructed it and it’s grown from just a few tents to this full-blown military bivouac. There’s a 1941 Chevrolet truck and trailer. Everything goes into the truck and trailer. That truck-trailer combination today is doing the same thing it was doing in World War II. It’s entertaining and educational.”
There will also be a mobile clinic from the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
“We are here to provide readjustment counseling for veterans and their families,” said Danny Molina, a readjustment counseling technician. “We’ll have counselors, a psychologist, and social workers from the Santa Cruz Veteran’s Center.”
Doctor of Nursing, Doral Gonzales, who retired from the Army after 22 years as a lieutenant colonel -- having served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- will assist veterans with getting services through the Veterans Administration, as well as providing information on medical care and arranging refills for their medications.
At 1 p.m., members of the VFW Honor Guard marched out to “present the colors,” in a flag raising ceremony officiated by Joe Love. After the ceremony Love tried to thank those of the community who came out. It was difficult for him to speak, as he voice broke with emotion, an emotion that every veteran felt.
Then Ramirez went to find his two friends.
On a personal level, I also had a friend to find, and I did, on Panel 17E, line 43.
His name was Albert C. Files, Jr. He was a couple years older than me when we worked together in a restaurant in Sacramento. He had been in the Army and was then attending a Christian college to be a doctor. Then he ran out of money and went back into the Army as a medic in the Green Berets. I was aboard a ship off Vietnam when I heard he was killed in a plane crash “in country,” March 25, 1967.
The Moving Wall will be open 24 hours a day through the weekend. Volunteers will be guarding it day and night. It will be lit and open for viewing at any hour throughout the 4th of July weekend.
To find out more information about The Moving Wall, http://themovingwall.org/.
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