Vietnam memorial wall opens Thursday

By By Bill Rautenstrauch The Observer July 18, 2012 10:25 am

Local Vietnam veterans and their many helpers are counting down the hours now to the realization of a cherished dream.

Beginning Thursday, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., goes on display for five days at the La Grande Gun Club, thanks to the efforts of members of the High Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4060 in Union, and a host of other volunteers.

The five-day display marks the culmination of months of hard work and fund raising, but the effort will be well worth it, said Byron Whipple, a Post 4060 member who also works as the Union County Veterans Service Officer.

“It’s exciting,” Whipple said. “A lot of the vets want to know if it’s open 24 hours, because they want some quiet time at night to sit at the wall.”

Wall built in 1982

The wall in Washington, D.C. was built in 1982 and bears the names of 51,195 service members who died in the Vietnam conflict. Designed to serve as a place of healing for those affected by one of the most divisive wars in United States history, it is maintained by the National Parks Service.

In 1983, John DeVitt, who served in the war as a helicopter gun chief, came up with the idea of a replica that would travel the country, giving thousands more people the chance to experience the wall.

Devitt and fellow Californian veterans Gary Haver and Norris Shears found funding and nationwide support to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Mobile). Today, the monument is simply called The Moving Wall. It has appeared in hundreds of towns and military posts across the country. 

After High Valley Post member and Vietnam veteran Ken McCormack and friends visited The Moving Wall in Lewiston, Idaho, they made up their minds to bring the display to La Grande. They raised the money necessary and recruited a small army of volunteers to help. The volunteers will pull security duty, man the first aid tent, help direct people to specific names on the wall, and more. The Oregon National Guard will be on hand, displaying vehicles and equipment.


The Moving Wall, at the La Grande Gun Club near Interstate 84’s Exit 265 southeast of La Grande, will be open round the clock, starting with the opening ceremony 2 p.m. Thursday and ending with the closing ceremony 2 p.m. Monday. 

At 6:30 each evening, there will be a ceremony dedicated to one branch of the service, with a veteran guest speaker from that branch. A 7 each evening, the flag will be retired, then raised again each day at 8 a.m.

McCormack will be the presiding speaker at the opening ceremony Thursday afternoon. During Thursday night’s Army dedication, retired Capt. Carole Halvorson will speak. Local Marine veteran Lonnie Myers is the guest speaker for Friday’s Marine dedication, and on Saturday, Gary Bruch, a Navy veteran and current commander of the La Grande VFW post, will deliver remarks.

Sunday, the Air Force will be recognized by speaker Col. Doran Hopkins. Monday afternoon prior to the closing ceremony, Coast Guard veteran Steve Neuman will speak for his branch of the service.

McCormack said Tuesday that volunteers are hard at work getting the display ready. In addition to helping set up the wall and erecting tents, tasks include placing of flags along the entrance by the American Legion Riders.

McCormack, who served with the Marines in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, said he is more than pleased with the way things are coming together.

“Everything we’ve got is top notch,” he said. “A lot of people I’ve talked to have said how pleased they are that it’s coming here, because they have relatives with names on the wall,” he said.