Archive 2008 - 2019

Moved by the Moving Wall: 20th Anniversary

by Paul Deschenes

Grown men cry. Twenty years ago a friend of mine, for almost sixty years now, began to shed some quiet tears as we slowly walked from Holliston High School’s parking lot toward the Hollis Street side end zone of Kamitian Field. We have been friends since freshman year in high school. We then carpooled for our four years of college and have remained friends despite our vast philosophical and political differences. He was in ROTC and wanted to go to Vietnam after graduation: “It will be my only chance to go to war.” I, on the other hand, got drafted.

He didn’t want to go – to where I was taking him, not Vietnam – but did so out of friendship. As an Airborne Ranger combat engineer, his experiences were different from mine. He arrived in country six months prior to me. I found out he was wounded and recovering in an Army evacuation hospital in Japan when my father included that in one of his letters. Later I learned he had been a patient in the Intensive Care ward of the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam about a week prior to my reporting for duty there in mid-January, 1970. Coincidentally, the veteran I sat next to at Holliston’s Veterans Dinner last November was also an intensive care patient there that same month. Small world.

My friend and I were walking toward The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which came to Holliston 20 years ago from July 26th to August 2nd. I have t-shirts to prove it. That was where I first met Ron Turcotte, currently VFW Post 8507’s Chaplain. Ron shared with me his thoughts about that event. It reminded him of the first time he visited The Wall in Washington, D.C. on a cold night in January in the late 1980’s. (When I landed in Saigon in January of 1970 at 11:00 p.m. it was 92.) Ron said he was the only one there, which made for some somber viewing and reflection in front of the softly lit chevron-shaped, smooth-as-glass granite panels – a sight to behold, but at such a high price with so very many names etched upon it. In a thick reference book he found someone with the same last name as his, but no relation. A Marine, he was KIA on May 9, 1968, toward the end of the Tet Offensive, just shy of his 19th birthday – a life cut short of so many possibilities - “There but for the grace of God ….”

My daughter remembers visiting The Wall in Holliston three months after seeing the one in D.C. while we were on a family vacation. She was eleven at the time. We were there in April, 1999, during school vacation week – the same week of the Columbine massacre. She said at first she thought they had moved the original to Holliston and could not figure out how that could have been done. She remembers being struck by the number of names on the edifice, but it wasn’t until more recently when Bobby Blair et al. began posting placards on telephone poles in recognition of those dying in Afghanistan and Iraq that she realized how young most of those being honored were.

The Wall that Heals is scheduled for display next month from August 22 to August 25 in Bellingham at the high school baseball field on Blackstone Street. The Wall that Heals is a ¾ scale replica that is accompanied by a mobile education center with a digital search kiosk and other instructive components about the Vietnam War and facts about The Wall. It also has two thick paper directories that alphabetically list the names on the wall, which are arranged on its surface by date of causality. As Ron said, personal memories of Vietnam are fading, but never forget or fail to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I plan to make a visit, where I’ll probably shed some tears of my own, once again.

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Comments (1)

I remember it when it came to town twenty years ago. Very moving, and sad to see all those names. I went to school with some of the men and I found their names.I hope to see it again when it comes to Bellingham. Thank You for your service Paul.

Sheila Love | 2019-07-27 05:45:22