National Headquarters

3201 East Pioneer Parkway #40

Arlington, Texas 76010-5396

817-649-2979

817-649-0109 - FAX

hq@axpow.org

 

America the Wonderful

Max Lockwood
PO Box 688
Douglas, GA  31534
(912) 384-9224

Luft 1, Barth Germany

The teenager stood there in the snow and looked out through the barbed wire at the world beyond. Dressed in light clothing, he shivered in the sub-zero freezing wind. 

He thought about home, about family and friends, about a sweetheart and wondered if he would ever see her again. 

He looked up at the Nazi swastika waving in the wind and changed it to the stars and stripes in the magic of his mind. 

As the days and months passed, he watched the tissue shrink as the skin tightened over the bones in his body. The little nourishment he received came from the imitation black bread and the weak coffee consumed whenever it is made available. 

He looked up at the guard towers and wondered if he could cross over the open area and climb the barbed wire to freedom before automatic weapons cold take his life away. 

As the sun moved across the skies and darkness prevailed, he knew the fear of abandonment, but regained his courage and vowed to live when the sun came forth again. 

In the presence of the more than 10,000 American airmen who shared the prisoner of war camp with him, he felt a strange sense of freedom, knowing all the while that life could be snatched away in a moment of meanness expressed by the enemy. 

But he gained there a love of country known but to those who have experienced that time in harm’s way when all one has left to offer his beloved country is life itself. 

He also experienced a new understanding of a force in his life, which in a special way connected his being to a higher power. A force that would forever burn warmly in his heart. 

This new power has enabled him to gain a new understanding of forgiveness and thus has changed his life forever. Changed it for the better. Gave his life new meaning. A greater awareness of those things which really do make a difference. 

He thinks even now of those men and women who serve their Country. Serve in uniform in towns and cities, both at home and in foreign places. Sacrifice in ways known only to those who offer themselves to serve America better wherever they are asked to serve. 

He also knows that the Greatness of America is bound up in the hopes and dreams of the millions who exercise their right to support those things they believe to be right and oppose those ideas they believe to be wrong. 

Citizenship does not recognize one’s religion, race, or sex. It has to do with understanding the rights of others and a willingness to help protect those rights whatever the circumstances may become. 

Even now in the quietness of dark nights, I can remember the terror of those days and nights behind the barbed wire. But I do not regret those hours, for they helped me grow from boy to man. May God Bless America, now and always.

 TAPS – What it means to me and why

John (Rudy) Crawbuck
Apt 215, 6500 Sunset Way
St. Pete Beach, FL  33706

johleen@aol.com


April 29, 1945, the day the Russians freed us from Stalag Luft 1, Barth, Germany. 

It was about 9PM when someone tried the door to the outside of the building we were in. All the doors to the building were always locked at 9PM. An airman opened the door a little and noticed the guard in the tower was not there. When he told us this, we all looked outside and got brave noticing that other men were looking out too. One airman went outside and others followed. 

The experience we had in a previous camp made us quite leery about going outside the building. This particular incident took place fourteen months previous to this time. An airman tried the door at 6AM and found it was open. Thinking it was opened by the guard, he proceeded to walk to the latrine. Halfway there he was shot by the tower guard. We could see him lying there, but were unable to assist him. It was a sad experience to see a fellow American dying so needlessly. It was a very sad experience – one you can never forget. 

Now, getting back to April 29, 1945. As more men got brave and went outside. There were hundreds of us just milling around, not really believing that maybe the war was over. From somewhere in camp, someone had gotten a bugle and was playing Taps. We all stood there dumbstruck. None of us could believe it was finally over. 

To this day, tears form on my face and I have no control over it. None of us were ashamed of our crying. Some of us knelt down and thanked God. 

If, by chance anyone would know who this man was, I sure would like to thank him.

The Bike Ride

George F. Fryett, Jr.
PO Box 269
Dillon, MT 59725
406-683-0079

Sometime in August of 1961, I purchased a 28” 3 speed Raleigh bike for about $ 60.00 from someone rotating home. I began to explore many areas in and around Saigon on my Bike. 

In September of 1961 I took my OCS boards and physical for Infantry Officer training. At this point I began to explore further out from the inner city of Saigon. During daylight hours, we had been told it was SAFE to do so. I needed to continue my physical training for OCS, Ranger and Airborne schools. 

On Sunday the 24th of December 1961, I was to begin a Bike ride that would last six months. In Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, it was Sunday. The Sun was shining and it was very hot and humid. It was an off-duty day for me. I got out of bed around 10:00 a.m. that morning. It really was a very pleasant day. I had a very leisure brunch of Chicken and Dumplings. 

Somewhere outside the city of Saigon, in the jungle, were the Viet Cong. Communist led and supported members of the National Liberation Front. They were waging penetrating jungle warfare. We had been briefed about this, but at this time they were said to be a comfortable distance away. 

I began to ride my bicycle around the city looking for things to take pictures of. As I was riding, I began to think about the swimming pool that was located in the city of Tu Duc. Tu Duc was about eight (8) miles outside of Saigon off the Kings Highway. My route to the swimming pool took me past the Zoological gardens, which leads to the Kings Highway. The Kings highway was paved and divided like a freeway. After riding for a few miles, I reached the turn off to what I thought was Tu Duc. The road at this point was dirt based and had many ruts with soft shoulders, forcing me to ride down the center of the road. 

There were soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam stationed in Tu Duc. This was far from being an isolated area. People traveled by foot and on bicycle on this road. It had not been classified as a dangerous area during daylight hours. I was wearing a sport shirt, Bermuda shorts and loose fitting sandals. In fact I was wearing nothing to indicate that I was, an American Service Person. My ride was uneventful, until I had passed a small group of people standing in a field near the road I was riding on. I continued to ride on, looking back once in awhile to see if anyone wanted to pass me. 

A little further down the road, I looked behind me again and saw two (2) riders on bicycles beginning to approach me. I continued to ride, paying little attention to the riders behind me. Not until one of them had passed me and stopped directly in the middle of the road in front of me. As I approached the rider who had stopped, he moved his bike so as to block my passage. He then shouted something to me. I did not understand what he said. When I did not respond to his demand, he slammed his bicycle into mine. I was knocked to the ground. By the time I got back up, the other rider joined the first rider, now there were two (2) of them. Together, the men jumped me and we began to fight. They pulled hand grenades from under their shirts. They then began to throw them at me. I think at first it was only to scare me. In my attempt to pick up one of the hand grenades, they both jumped me. During the fighting I began to shout! “Viet Cong! Viet Cong!” I thought that this might bring me some help. 

“Boy was I surprised to see the people start closing the doors to the huts that were near by”. By now, I was beginning to be covered by blood from abrasions on my hands, arms, and legs. As we fought, I continued to shout for help. Eventually a sharp blow overpowered me to my head. This blow came from an unknown source. I think that it was possibly a hand grenade. I was now in a semi-conscious condition. I was also bleeding from head and ear wounds.

My captors dragged me into the underbrush and tied my hands behind me. My pockets were then emptied. I was then blindfolded. After being blindfolded, I was forced to walk for a short distance and pushed to my knees. At this moment, I was sure I was to be shot to death. 

It seemed like eternity, but minutes later I was again pulled up on my feet. They began shoving further in to underbrush and once again knocked to my knees. My blindfold was removed. My mind flashed to something I had read about other Americans who had been captured in Korea. Blindfolded, and then shot in the head. 

I was in a small clearing near a grave of a long since buried Vietnamese person. Trees surrounded the clearing. They seated me under the trees, by the edge of the gravesite. In a short time other Viet Cong soldiers began to join the group. They were coming and going with much discussion between each of them. Some of the men were armed with rifles. One of them even had a revolver. Nothing in the outward appearance of these men indicated that they were trained soldiers. I was later to be shown pictures of some of the executions and atrocities by the Viet Cong. 

I no longer had any doubts about the seriousness of my present situation. I had encountered Viet Cong Infiltrates! 

As it began to get dark, four (4) men joined the two (2) men who were guarding me. My hands were tied behind my back even tighter than before. We began to walk away from the gravesite. We began to travel in a northwesterly direction. At the edge of a field we stopped. I was transferred to a new group. The new group consisted of five (5) men. When it got darker, we were able to walk in the open fields. Half way across a field we came face to face with two men. One was pointing a Thompson submachine gun at me and the other held an American M-1 rifle. These two men joined the group and we all moved on into the night. We were going further into unfriendly surroundings. 

My seven captors and I walked from the field onto a road that ran between trees leading in the direction of a village. We stopped along the side of the road for a rest. After a few minutes passed, a rope was placed around me to act as a leash. We began to walk again going across a small clearing. In the direction of the trees just opposite the clearing came a challenge. We all fell to the ground. I thought to myself, “Have we at last made contact with Friendly Forces of the Republic of Vietnam?”  

The challenge rang out again. One of the men in our group said something in return. We then got back on our feet and made our way towards the sound of the voice. We entered a village where we stopped in a yard to rest and eat. After a few minutes soda pop and cookies were brought to us. Since I was lying on the ground in the dark, the guards did not notice me place some of the cookies in my pockets. 

The march was unchanged, when my captors needed a rest, we rested. If they were hungry, we ate. But cookies and soda pop are hardly suitable for an all night march. After an hour of rest we walked away from the village across a large field to a road. Over the road was an arch. Across the arch and down the sides of it were flags and signs in Vietnamese. 

Later I was to learn that the flags were those of the Vietcong and the signs were telling the people to drive the Americans out of South Vietnam. By now I was beginning to limp from the blisters on my feet. Half the night was gone and still no one had tended to my wounds or paid attention to my feet, which were now in very bad shape. The long hours of marching, the attack on me, and the manner in which I was tied led me to believe, I was not to survive the night. During my imprisoning march I had kept the hope in my mind that I would somehow have a chance to escape. 

My captors and I avoided roads as much as possible and only made brief contact with the Vietnamese communities. The longer we marched, the more I tried to loosen the ropes holding me.

I found that my hands were tied behind me in such a way that when I moved my arms, the motion would cause the rope around my neck to tighten in a violent manner. A violent break would surly choke me to death. The guard behind me held the rope very tight. As far as I was concerned, it was escape or die trying to escape. I wanted to give my captors the impression that it was impossible for me to go any further, this was not too difficult, and I was exhausted. I knew I was still gambling with death. I did not know for certain what they had planned for me. 

I also did not know that should the chance come, would I have the strength to make my escape. We crossed the first paved road I had seen all night. There we stopped at a junction of a small stream near a houseboat. My guard holding the rope leading from him to my neck placed his end of the rope under his foot. At this point a woman living on the houseboat walked between us going to the stream to get some water. As she turned to go back to the houseboat, I took hold of my end of the rope. It was now with the distraction of the woman passing, I felt I had my first real chance to try an escape. Just as she passed us, I made a running dash for the water. I dove in head first, using all my energy to swim and untie the ropes that were holding me at the same time. The next thing I knew, I was losing consciousness. When I regained my senses, two men were standing me on my feet. They were tying more ropes around me. It was Christmas morning 25 December 1961. Captured by the Viet Cong.

PRISONER OF WAR IN SOUTH VIETNAM.

 

Just A Coincidence?

A true story that begs to be told

By Larry E. Hudec
414 Westchester Ct.
Murfreesboro, TN  37129
(615) 893-9352

The funeral was scheduled for Monday morning at Arlington National Cemetery. It was Saturday morning. I was home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee where I had moved six years ago, following an unusual set of circumstances. I had, of course, a list of things to do. How could I possibly have time to go to the grocery store? It would have to wait until I got back. Fortunately, one of my tasks took less time than anticipated. With an hour to spare, I started my blue pick-up truck and headed to Kroger’s. 

I hurriedly parked and jumped out. Crossing the parking lot I noticed a man and woman flanking the entrance. They were selling something. Oh, nuts, I thought, more cookies to buy. As I approached the door, a nice elderly lady asked, “Would you like to purchase a daisy in honor of the ex-POWs? The daisy symbolized ‘don’t tell’ and a POW keeps his country’s secrets.” “Sure,” I said digging into my wallet for a small donation. I thought how could I not? My uncle was a former prisoner of war and it was his funeral I’d be attending. She handed me the daisy and said, “Wear it proudly”. “Thanks”, I said. Not taking the time to find a place for it, I stuffed it in my pocket. 

Maneuvering through the aisles, I thought I should tell that nice lady my uncle had been a prisoner of war. I had a couple of extra minutes. However, I forgot and after completing my purchase I made my way towards my truck. Almost there, I remembered the lunchmeat. Had to go back. Making my way to the entrance, I saw the man and woman again. Wanting to save a buck, I quickly jerked out the daisy and showed it to the lady. “I already made a donation”, I said. “Yes”, she said. “I remember your smiling face.” Entering the store, I realized once again I forgot to tell her about my uncle. “For sure on the way out.” I said to myself. This time I didn’t forget. 

Upon exiting the store, I went straight to the elderly couple. “Hi, my name is Larry. My uncle had been a prisoners of war,” I said to the lady. “My name is Betty Clark,” she said. “My husband is Bill Clark. Bill was also a prisoner of war. He was held captive by the German government and was liberated by Russian soldiers in 1945.” I explained to her “My uncle had recently died and was to be buried on Monday at Arlington National Cemetery. I prepared the information for his obituary and remember that he, too, was captured by the Germans and liberated by the Russians in 1945.” Excitedly, she called to her husband. “Bill” she said, “This man’s uncle was also held captive by the Germans and liberated by the Russians in 1945. He died, though, and will be interred Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.” Bill immediately called me over and said “I was liberated on January 31, 1945.” I told him my uncle was also liberated that same day. 

“I was in Camp 3C,” Bill said. ”What camp was your uncle in?” I told him I recalled reading that information in an old newspaper clipping I keep in a scrapbook, but couldn’t think of it right then. He said, “I’d be interested in knowing that. I was the ranking noncommissioned officer in the camp, and as such, was the chief negotiator between the Germans and the prisoners. (You could say he was the Hogan of Hogan’s Heroes.)  When the Russians liberated us, we were still at war. There were about 400 of us. We divided into small groups and had to make our way to freedom. I led a group of 40 men to freedom, but sadly, many of the others were later recaptured.” 

I told that Clarks I’d review the newspaper clipping and send them a letter telling them what camp my uncle was in. Betty gave me their address. I left assuring them I’d send them the information. Approaching my truck, I thought, I only live five minutes away; why not just go back, look up the information and immediately return. Back I went to see how long they’d be there. Bill said, “We’ll be here a couple more hours. I really hope you can make it back today.” 

Leafing through the scrapbook, I finally found the dated article.  Sure enough, my uncle was held in the same camp. Immediately, I called my dad in California and explained what happened. I asked him, “Did Uncle Mike ever talk about being a prisoner of war, and what happened after being liberated by the Russians?” “No,” he said, “Mike never talked about that.” My dad was quite excited, but he couldn’t offer anything to help. 

I made a copy of the newspaper article and an old Army document confirming Uncle Mike’s liberation date from the Germans to give to Bill and Betty. Back to Kroger’s. 

There they sat as I eagerly approached them.  “Yes”, I called to them, “he was in Camp 3C!” I showed them the articles. They were both, as I was, utterly astonished. 

Bill began to speak a little slower. “Now,” he said, “if I could only figure out if your uncle was one of my group of forty. I would really like to know.” I told him that I had talked to my dad and he couldn’t offer any clues on that. All of their other siblings are also gone, and there is nobody left to ask. Bill went on to say, “I led the men from Germany through Poland, Ukraine, Egypt, and Italy to the United States.  I once had a list of all the men’s names, but gave it to the captain of the ship. See, the Russians detained us for two weeks. I was afraid something was wrong. So I gave the list to the captain and asked him to give it to the American authorities if anything happened to us. I then told the Russians what I had done. The next day, the Russians told us we were free to go.” 

“Bill”, I said, “I don’t know how my uncle had returned to the United States. Actually, I thought the war was over because my uncle had traveled through Europe. Look at the article. It says right here that after being liberated he traveled from Germany, through Poland, Ukraine, Egypt and Italy to the good old USA”.  

We when both realized that had happened and stopped speaking. Then the old soldier looked at me, and with a soft voice quietly said, “That is the exact route we took. Your uncle was with my group of forty men.” 

After retiring from the military, my Uncle Mike went on to lead a long and healthy life. Our family is sincerely grateful to Bill Clark for his outstanding leadership and heroic actions. And, yes, Bill now remembers my Uncle Mike. You see my uncle was 35 years old at the time (much older than the other men) and was balding. He had to wear a wool stocking cap to keep his head warm. This Bill remembers well! Also, my uncle was a medic, and Bill remembers the valuable medical attention he provided to the group. As for the daisy, well I gave it to my father at the hotel. Before leaving for the funeral, he pinned it to his lapel. 

On June 4, 2001, Michael P. Hudec, at the age of 90, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. At 10:20 AM the bugler played TAPS. May he rest in peace. 

Note; Bill Clark would like to get in touch with any of the men who were held in Camp 3C, Kustrin, Germany. His address is: 2778 Rideout Lane, Apt. N-1414, Murfreesboro, TN  37128.

 

Prune Face and the Brow

by Phil Wright
1011 River Drive #101
Livingston, MT 59047
tel: 406-222-3597

 

Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg— The sight of a grotesquely burned pilot, wandering lonely about the camp, was a shock to all who saw him. He had no ears, no eyelids, and his mouth just a hole in a face of hideously scarred skin drawn taut over a scull topped with hair the color and texture of a dead mouse. We tried not to stare.
 
More than a hundred of us lived in a huge tent, crammed together on the ground on straw ticks. Mess hall meals were sumptuous feasts of a thin broth garnished with bugs, accompanied by dehydrated black sauerkraut, and bread largely composed of sawdust. We ate it all! 

One day the grotesque pilot wandered over to my area and said, “Hi Wright.”

Dumbfounded, I could only stammer, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are.” “I’m Ray Trombley,” he responded. Stunned, I could only babble stupidly. 

The Ray Trombley I’d known so well in flight school was cherub-faced with curly blond hair, and an impish grin from Springfield, Mass. I was unable to comprehend this was the same person. Nor could I bring myself to ask him what had happened. Shamefully, I was relieved, when he wandered off, clutching a dirty piece of gauze to wipe pus from his eyes. It was a terrible moment—sympathy and revulsion intertwined. I was not proud of myself.
 
When Ray had left, one in my quartet took me aside, stunning me when he said, “Phil, please don’t ask Ray to eat with us. I couldn’t take it.” It seemed terribly cruel, but I understood. I said I wouldn’t. The point was moot, as Ray never asked to join us.
 
Only later did I learn that he’d gone on to fly P-38s in Italy north of Foggia. On his 17th mission to Vienna on November 1, 1944 he caught a wing tip on a tree while strafing a large concentration of trains and locomotives in Hungary and cart wheeled in. He was burned horribly climbing out of the flaming wreckage. Hungarian soldiers captured him and lugged him in a horse drawn cart to a Catholic hospital in Kormand, Hungary where he was expected to die. He survived, and in a month or so two Hungarian guards took him to another hospital in Budapest by train disguised as a Czech prisoner-of-war. On the train two German soldiers came up to him and put a gun to his head threatening to shoot him as a spy in disguise before letting him go. It was just one of the many close calls he was able to survive.
 
By the middle of January he was believed to be well enough to join up with six other P.O.W.s, and two old guards to go to Frankfurt-am-Main. On the way to Vienna they were chased by angry civilian crowds trying to hang them. In Vienna they were made to stay on the top floor of a department store that was bombed nightly by Allied planes. From Vienna, they went by train and on foot for roughly 250 miles through the beautiful Danube valley to Regensburg. Coming into Regensburg they were strafed by P-38’s, but fortunately no one was hit.
 
From Regensburg to Frankfurt was another 200 miles. So, fifty-four days after leaving Budapest, and traveling at less than 10 miles a day, they finally arrived in Frankfurt on March 10, 1945. Saying goodbye to the guards, who had become good friends during the long trip, they were interrogated and deloused. Then the seven of them were led into a huge room where several hundred starving Russians were lying on the floor. The stench was so overwhelming one of the guys fainted. After awhile they were given bars of rough soap and led into a huge shower room to finally get clean. A few days later they were all sent off to Nürnberg in miserably crowded boxcars that were the lot of all large groups of POWs traveling by train.
 
Also at Nürnberg, from flight school, and flying P-47 Thunderbolts with me in the 36th Fighter Group, 9th A.F., were Harry Vibbert and Joe Schultis. Harry was shot down in September of ’44. He suffered very severe burns on his arms, legs, throat, forehead, and broke his ankle when he landed in his parachute.
 
The Germans walked him several miles until he finally collapsed standing at attention in front of a German officer seated behind a desk. But regardless of how rough a time Harry had he never lost his indomitable sense of humor.
 
Joe was shot down during The Battle of the Bulge and evaded for five days. His feet were badly frost bitten crossing streams in the frigid December weather. He came that close to the lines that he could smell GI cooking and hear American voices before he was captured.
 
I was shot down in March of ’45 and suffered from two infected hangnails and bunch of flea bites!!

Ray, on the other hand, was in terrible shape both mentally and physically. To sleep he had to roll his eyes up into his head. In the mornings he’d hold a little pocket mirror in one hand and wipe the caked pus from his eyes with the dirty piece of gauze, while staring at his horribly disfigured face. Our hearts went out to him, but there was nothing we could do.
 
In a way, Harry was Ray’s savior. Though even more badly burned than Ray, his face wasn’t as disfigured as Ray’s nor was he as overwhelmed by his condition. But only Harry, with his unflagging humor, could allow him to get away with dubbing Ray “Prune Face” and himself “The Brow”—from the comic strip characters in Dick Tracy.
 
Whenever Ray sank into a funk, Harry would say, “Come on ‘Prune Face,’ I’m ‘The Brow,’ and I’m the boss,” and Ray would buck up. It was beautiful to watch what those two men did for each other. One giving - one receiving - both gaining. It’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.
 
We were liberated on April 29, 1945 from Stalag VII-A at Moosburg, and Ray and Harry were flown home immediately for hospitalization. Later, Harry, Joe, and I had a couple of wild nights out in Detroit, before going on to our life’s separate ways.
 
Years later, I visited Harry in the veteran’s hospital in Detroit - he was dying of cancer - and he kidded me about getting bald. For Christmas that year he sent me a cheap red pen embossed with his name  and a dime store comb. I treasure them. He died shortly afterwards. I loved that man, as only men who share in combat can.
 
Harry had given me Ray’s address, and we still correspond. Photographs put the lie to the old saying, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” He looks great - just an older addition of that baby-faced blond guy I knew in flight school.

 
But, “Prune Face” and “The Brow” will never be forgotten - God bless-em!

 

The Moving Wall

Sharon DeNitto
Sarasota, FL

ITSharon@aol.com

 

The question that plagued my generation was, “Why Vietnam?”  

During my college days in 1967, I volunteered at an air force base USO and  it was quite a learning experience!  By February 1973, I watched our American Prisoners of War arrive home and I felt a connection.  Then for the next thirteen years I served in our American embassies overseas separated from the veterans I wanted to help. Upon my return to the US in 1993, I volunteered for two years at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC – again making connections.  For the last six years, I have volunteered to help visitors at the mobile Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Moving Wall.  

That same question arises, “Why did Vietnam happen?”  but it bridges the gaps of all generations who still want to know more. What can be definitively answered, however, is the 58,225 soldiers listed on the memorial —  each is an individual and they all made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. 

Therefore, helping people to make a connection with their own Vietnam experience has become my lifelong passion. The Moving Wall, which travels the country, brings the original, half-scale replica of The Vietnam Wall “home” to communities. Set-up for an entire week at a sponsor’s location, the moving memorial gives me the opportunity to make a difference, using information technology to help visitors remember and honor these Vietnam heroes that gave their lives. 

Many articles have been written about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedication of the Wall in Washington DC. But there was another event that developed at the 1982 Veterans Day ceremony that would profoundly impact many people who would never have the chance to travel to Washington DC to see it.

A Vietnam combat veteran named John Devitt traveled to that dedication for a reunion with the 1st Calvary. As he approached the Wall, he expected not to like it, but instead he suddenly felt intense pride. He wanted to share the experience with all veterans who may not be able to visit the DC site, so he decided to build a replica of the memorial that could be transported to the people instead. John returned to California, and with the help of two Navy friends, Norris Shears and Gerry Haver, along with a contribution from the San Jose City Council, they constructed the very first, half-size, mobile replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

On October 15, 1984, the half-size replica was displayed for the first time in Tyler, Texas, at the Rose Festival. It evoked the same emotions there as were witnessed at the DC Memorial. The California vets knew they had touched America’s heart. A bit later at a display site in California, Micki Voicard commented that the replica moved and was a very moving experience. This statement was later recognized as the official name for The Moving Wall, which remains identified as such to this day. The Moving Wall has toured all 50 states, and has also been displayed in Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and Mariana Islands. 

The Moving Wall is never displayed at fundraisers, carnival-type events, or any location where profits are an objective. There is no government involvement in this non-profit organization, and it is run entirely on donations. If anyone refers to the replica as the Vietnam War Memorial, John encourages us to explain that it does not honor war. It is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – a memorial honoring all known casualties in the war, and those who are still Missing in Action (MIA). That is why I volunteer my time whenever possible, to answer a myriad of questions, to provide statistical data, to explain the artistic concept of the memorial, and to locate veteran’s names on the Wall. 

Since 1996, I have assisted at fifteen Moving Wall sites. Each time, I find more and more to share with the patrons who come to the memorial to pay their respects. I listen intently to their meaningful memories, whether they know someone on the Wall, or not. And when people ask me how many I know on the Wall, I simply reply, “All 58,225”. At some point, I have touched all those names, literally and figuratively and in my heart.

Information technology allows me to access many different databases, which gives me current, up-to-date information to assist visitors at The Moving Wall. Many people ask about the repatriation of MIAs, or veterans added to the memorial since 1983. Even with just a first name and a time frame, I can usually locate a veteran’s name on the Wall through various searches on my computer. It is a challenge that I welcome, as so many veterans only new their buddies by first name or nickname, and have never been able to find anyone that can assist them in the search before. Even in Washington DC, volunteers only have access to a “Directory of Names” book, so if you do not know the correct spelling of the last name, you will not be able to locate the veteran on the Wall. 

 In addition to making so many connections via computerized databases and links through the Internet, I have also learned the relevance of displaying billboards full of information; Vietnam maps, Prisoner of War (POW) information, details about the women who served in Vietnam, Medal of Honor recipients, chaplains, and the dog handlers K-9 group. I also have guidelines for family members who believe their veteran is eligible for their name to be inscribed on the memorial or for repatriation purposes. A few visitors even want to know how to contact the appropriate service branch in order to submit DNA for identification of remains. I post a copy of the states’ POW/MIA list and the repatriations, as well as the Medal of Honor recipients declared to that state. There are instructions on how to send remembrances to the Virtual Wall web site, or locate various military web sites searching for buddies. But sharing information does not end there.

So many individuals show me their POW/MIA bracelets, and inquire about the fate of that particular veteran. I am so overwhelmed when I can facilitate a POW connection. The joy on their faces is my hearts’ reward.

I volunteer so that I can walk to The Moving Wall with a veteran who has waited 30 years to pay his respects to a lost friend. I am honored to lend them my shoulder to lean on as they muster their courage to touch a name or reveal painful memories.  

I volunteer to share the memory with a family member whose loved one has recently departed, but will never find them memorialized on the Wall. I volunteer because I want to teach the students some things that maybe the schools cannot. I believe that duty, honor, country and respect are significant places to start. 

I volunteer for the Sons and Daughters whose fathers are on the Wall and for the Gold Star Mothers whose children are on the Wall. I volunteer to bridge better understandings between all of our veterans who shared similar combat experiences but in different wars. 

I volunteer to meet that special person who comes to the Wall and says, “I don’t know anyone”. I say to them, “Let me give you a veterans name, and I will take you to the Wall and introduce you.”  

I volunteer because at each site, if I have touched just one person, I feel that I have helped my generation when others may no longer be able to do so.

 

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