Vietnam Veterans Memorial; The Moving Wall

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By: Megan Way Photos by; Su Phelps and Lawrence Oravetz

From morning to evening on November 1st-4th the half size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, “The Moving Wall” stayed at Las Vegas. The local host for The Moving Wall was James Jimmerson. A Vietnam Army veteran that has been planning this event for over 2 years. With the Election Day the corner, he hopes everyone who visited keeps something in mind while voting, “One of the things that I think all the veterans and anybody who’s ever been in the war has fought for our democratic right to vote.”

The location was very ideal. Since the event was right next to the Supreme Court made the event feel much more respectful. Everyone was handed a piece of paper and a crayon at the entrance to do a rubbing of name on the wall. Jimmerson invited The Moving Wall on-site volunteer chaplain, Ms. Monica Harvey, “I’m just here to comfort them.”

On the 2nd day of the event Badlands Barbeque cooked turkey, gravy, stuffing, ham, and pies for everyone at the event. Jimmerson bought the food for Badlands Barbeque to cook. On the 2nd day, Veterans Talk – The Forgotten Promise along with James Jimmerson and Chef J.B. did a live podcast. Color Guard from Vietnam Veterans Association (VVA) Chapter 17 did a presentation of colors near the afternoon on the 2nd and 3rd day. Guest speakers Jacob Jimmerson, Chief Justice Michael Douglas – Nv Supreme Court, Former POW Jessica Lynch, Justice Michael Cherry – Nv Supreme Court, Kate Marshall and Jim Lytner spoke on the 2nd and 3rd days.

For the people who want to learn about The Moving Wall, greeters at the entrance introduced The Moving Wall. Gerry Stegmaier tells the origin of the Moving Wall beautifully in his article “The Moving Wall”,

“In 1982 John Devitt, a former helicopter door gunner and Army veteran, visited Washington, DC for the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and to participate in the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans. This visit and experience changed Devitt’s life and led to the creation of the “Moving Wall,” which has since moved millions of people.

This emotional outpouring and the pride of having participated in a parade honoring Vietnam veterans inspired Devitt to dedicate the next eleven years of his life to giving people all across the nation a chance to experience a similar catharsis. Originally, Devitt and his friends had hoped to create a photo mural of the Wall, but when the negatives proved unusable, they came up with another solution. The concept was simple: build a replica of the Wall in Washington which could travel across the country, so that everyone who couldn’t visit the Wall could share the experience and emotion which it evokes.

Devitt’s idea was deeply personal. He had been out of work when the Wall was dedicated, and had made the trip with financial help from family and friends. “There were millions of people who would never be able to come to Washington,” he realized, “I wanted them to be able see and feel what I had.”

His emotions ran deep. “Before 1982 I never felt like I needed a parade or a memorial,” he says. He had come to the Wall expecting to dislike it, anticipating it would be as some media stories had said, “a black gash of shame.” Instead, the Wall changed his life; it gave him a new mission and sense of pride in his military service. With the help of a few friends, Devitt set out to build a movable wall. They estimated it would take $40,000, however, pooling their savings they could only come up with $2,500.

“We were totally surprised by the reaction of the businesses we approached. I didn’t even have a credit card at the time, but when we talked to various companies and explained what we were trying to do, they were very sympathetic. Many took the job on our word.” Devitt says, “I knew that once we got started, it would pay for itself…and if it didn’t, we were prepared to pay for it ourselves.” He was convinced of the need for the Moving Wall.

In the eleven years since the Moving Wall has been in existence, it has been visited by millions of people, in over 410 locations. While the material of the Moving Wall has changed, its impact remains the same.
“When you think about it,” he says, “two or three million people visit the Wall every year. There are ten or twenty times that many people, who, for whatever reason, will never be able to make the trip to Washington.” Scheduling the route of the Wall is a tough job and Devitt tries to be as objective as possible. Dates fill up quickly, almost a year in advance, and there are often schedule conflicts which prevent visits to certain events and locations. “When we started, it was much simpler,” he says. “Someone would call and if I wasn’t going to be somewhere else at that time, we would load things up and go.”

While the costs involved were greater than expected, Devitt was opposed to any kind of charge to visit the Moving Wall. “Originally, we thought we could put out a donation box and that would cover our expenses,” he explains. Convinced that there should be no charge to have the Wall come to a community, someone came up with the idea that local host committees be formed to sponsor the Moving Wall’s visit. This solution has worked well, and the schedule of the Moving Wall remains crowded as it journeys across the country.

Many people have not heard about Devitt or the Moving Wall; his humble and hard working attitude are partially responsible. “When the Wall comes to a town, it brings people out from all over. We try to play it low key because the Wall speaks for itself.” He continues, “This isn’t about me. It’s not about John Devitt. Its about remembering 58,000 people who died in service to their country.”

Learn more at themovingwall.org