Moving tribute: Wall leaves, memory of those who gave ultimate sacrifice remains

By By Dick Mason The Observer July 25, 2012 12:26 pm

The written record indicates that about 4,000 people visited the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall Memorial at the La Grande Gun Club between Thursday and Monday afternoon. 

The written record indicates that about 4,000 people visited the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall Memorial at the La Grande Gun Club between Thursday and Monday afternoon.

The actual number is far higher than anyone will ever know, a partial testament to the emotional wellspring the wall touches.

 Eleanor Blankenship of Cove, a member of the High Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4060 Auxiliary, knows this well. Blankenship said a number of  Vietnam veterans who lost buddies in battle could not come into a tent at the La Grande Gun Club to sign a register book after seeing the Moving Wall.

“It was too emotional for them,’’ said Blankenship, the coordinator of volunteers at the five-day tribute to the 58,267 Vietnam veterans  listed on the wall, all of who lost their lives in the Vietnam war or are still listed as missing in action.

 The Moving Wall and the names of those inscribed on it, were saluted a final time Monday afternoon at the La Grande Gun Club. The closing ceremony featured a rendition of “I’m Proud to Be an American,’’ by Jordin Lineback of Union; a benediction by Kenney Faulkner, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and a chaplain; comments by master of ceremonies Ken McCormack, commander of  High Valley Post 4060; the playing of Taps; a gun salute; and an address by Coast Guard veteran Steve Neumann of La Grande.

Neumann spoke about the Coast  Guard’s contribution to the Vietnam War effort. He said the Coast Guard patrolled 1,200 miles of coastline in Asia, helped destroy enemy supply lines, performed countless successful rescue missions and much more.    

“Lifesavers at heart, they (the members of the Coast Guard) never left that behind when they went on support missions in combat,’’ said Neumann, who served in the Coast Guard from 1970 to 1974.

Neumann said that about 8,000 members of the Coast Guard served in Vietnam, seven were killed in action and 59 were wounded in action. He said that for years most people did not realize that the Coast Guard was involved in the Vietnam War. Today many more people are becoming aware of the contributions the Coast Guard made. Neumann said that for the Coast Guard to be remembered for its Vietnam War efforts is gratifying to see.  

 “Sometimes the greatest casualty of war is being forgotten.’’

The U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force were also recognized on separate days during the appearance of the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall at the La Grande Gun Club. The Moving Wall is a close replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The wall’s panels were packed up within an hour of the conclusion of the closing ceremony and is now being driven to White Pine, Mich.  At White Pine the wall is kept and maintained by the The Moving Wall Vietnam Combat Veterans organization. The wall was brought to La Grande from Alaska where it was displayed in more than four cities and towns. 

Members of the crew transporting the wall received encouragement  from the several hundred who attended the closing ceremony.  

“Take good care of her…of the wall,’’  Gary Wright of La Grande told the moving crew.

The cost of bring the wall to La Grande was $6,000. The expense was covered by donors and sponsors including VFW organizations.

The Moving Wall, complemented by the presence of about 25 American flags,  made the La Grande Gun Club a colorful and emotionally stirring site during its five-day stay, one open round-the-clock.      

“This is a marvelous thing, marvelous,’’  said Sandra Johnson of Wallowa.  “I really  wanted to see the one in Washington but I’m glad to see this.’’