The Press Newspaper
Moving wall message: `This is the cost of war’
An estimated 6,500 people – some from as far away as New York and North Carolina – visited the Vietnam Moving Wall while it was in the Village of Elmore for five days, said Ron Distel, the man who was a key organizer behind the visit.
“It was three years of toil that was worth its weight in gold,” he said last week.
During the closing ceremony Monday afternoon, Distel, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam from 1970-71, thanked the many volunteers who helped make the project a reality and then asked all veterans in attendance to walk by the wall one last time.
Less than an hour after the ceremony ended, the wall was disassembled and back on the truck that brought it and headed to its next visit in Birch Run, Mich.
The moving wall may be a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. but the emotions it evokes are overwhelming, say organizers of the visit.
“I was glad when the wall got here,” Distel said. “And I’m pleased with how everything went. But there were a few of us who said, ‘This thing just belongs here.’ You could feel the spirit of the community. A World War II vet stood there and sobbed. I was standing there shaking hands forever.”
Many elderly residents of nearby towns thanked organizers for having the wall come to Elmore, saying there was little chance they’d be able to make the trip to the memorial in Washington, D.C.
As the sounds of “Amazing Grace” and “Taps” filled the air Saturday night, visitors stopped and stood silent, then resumed their slow pace along a walkway in front of the wall when the bugle fell silent.
For anyone too young to have lived through the war, the names on the wall offer an important message, says Gene Shurtz, chaplain of the Greater Toledo Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.
“I try to tell everyone, especially the younger people, this is the cost of war,” Shurtz said, motioning to the wall. “Pay attention, I tell them. There is a dollar and cents loss. But the real cost is never to be recovered.”
Shurtz personally knew about 15 men who were killed during the war and says it’s not uncommon for many veterans to still have ”survivor syndrome” almost 40 years after hostilities ended.
“They’ll ask, `Why did I survive?’ when so many of their comrades didn’t,” he said.
Shurtz, now a substitute teacher who served with an Army unit – the 196th Light Infantry Brigade’s 3rd Battalion - has seen the war in Vietnam receive less and less space in school textbooks over the years.
He’s been to the memorial wall in Washington, D.C. a couple of times and visited the moving wall when it was in Toledo years ago.
On this night, as he talks with visitors about the war, Agent Orange, and other related issues he finds it hard to concentrate in the presence of the names of the more than 58,000 servicemen and women listed in the order of their reported deaths.
“I start seeing their faces,” Shurtz said of the men he knew. “I feel like I’m seeing them in ghost form.”
David Meyer, also a member Chapter 35 of the Vietnam Veterans of America who served with Air Force combat security police in Vietnam from 1968-69, reflects on how the names on the wall inspired him to remember a poem “From The Other Side.”
During a Saturday night ceremony he read the poem, which is told from the perspective of a soldier whose name is on the wall seeing friends and relatives visiting the wall.
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