Moving Wall has 'outpouring of support'

More than 100,000 visitors expected at Vietnam memorial in Oswego

By MARTHA QUETSCH - editorial@kcchronicle.com Published: Monday, June 19, 2017 9:32 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 19, 2017 3:27 p.m. CDT
The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is coming to Oswego from June 29 to July 3. — Photo provided by John Montesano

OSWEGO – The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial, is coming to Oswego from June 29 to July 3, with help from hundreds of people from many local communities.

“There's been a tremendous outpouring of support,” said Dave Krahn, president of the Oswegoland Park District Board. “I've never seen such enthusiasm for an event. It's taken on a life of its own – it's been fantastic.”

The event is a collaboration among the park district, the village of Oswego, Community Unit School District 308, the Oswego Chamber of Commerce and the Fox Valley Veterans Breakfast Club, with support from local businesses and residents.

A volunteer committee of Fox Valley residents has spent months of planning, recruiting volunteers, hosting fundraisers and making site arrangements. About 500 people signed up to help out before and during the event, said Vietnam veteran John Montesano of Aurora, the committee's volunteer coordinator.

This is the Moving Wall's first visit to Oswego. Herschel Luckinbill of Montgomery, a Vietnam veteran who co-chairs the committee with Krahn, was instrumental in bringing the wall to West Aurora High School in 2013. The wall first came to the area 28 years ago, displayed at Veterans Memorial Island Park in Aurora.

The Oswego event, like the wall's previous local displays, is expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors.

“I always appreciate the number of people who come to see the wall, meeting with the other veterans that come, talking with them,” said Jim Davidson, a Vietnam veteran from North Aurora. “It's a show of patriotism.”

The Moving Wall was created in 1982 by a group of Vietnam veterans in California. The wall stands six feet at the center and gradually tapers to four-foot-high panels at each end. It stretches 252 feet, nearly the length of a football field. 

Listed on the wall are the names of 58,228 soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. Viewing it is an emotional – yet positive – experience for many people, and a unique opportunity.

“A lot of people can't get to Washington,” said Vietnam veteran Stan Herzog of Geneva. “Seeing it in their local area is definitely [a] healing experience for people, especially for those who have someone they know who was killed in Vietnam.”

Davidson, who received three Purple Heart medals while in Vietnam, has seen the memorial at the nation's capital. For him, looking at the names on the Moving Wall evokes the same emotions – a sense of great loss, and great patriotism.

In Vietnam, Davidson lost high school classmates, fellow Army infantrymen and other soldiers he served with while a door gunner on a Huey. He served on this year's Moving Wall committee and on the committee that twice brought the wall to Aurora.

“The reason I do it is because of the guys I was with who are on the wall – it's to pay respect to them and all the others,” Davidson said.

While the Moving Wall is in Oswego, volunteers will read all of the wall names aloud continuously, day and night, through the event. The readings last about 72 hours, starting with the first recorded U.S. casualty in Vietnam through the last one.

The Moving Wall events begin on June 29 with a procession starting at 8 a.m. It will escort the trailer transporting the wall past downtown Oswego's Veterans Memorial and down Washington Street to Prairie Point Park at Plainfield and Woolley roads.

Volunteers will put up the wall and have it ready about 1 p.m. for public viewing June 29 and continuously through July 3.

The opening ceremony is set for 9:30 a.m. June 30. Krahn is excited about the ceremony, which will be “full of music, pageantry and pomp and circumstance,” he said.

Performers will include the Air Force Band and Jim Cornelison, national anthem singer at Chicago Blackhawks games. Public officials and Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Alan Lynch of Illinois are among slated speakers at the ceremony, which also will feature a flyover to honor veterans.

The evening of June 30, a flag retirement ceremony is scheduled for worn flags to be burned. The public may bring flags to be destroyed.

At 1 p.m. July 1 is the Gold Star and Blue Star family recognition ceremony. Gold Star families represent lost soldiers, and Blue Star families represent current military members. At 6 p.m. that evening is a Quilts of Valor ceremony.

At 9:30 a.m. July 2, a nondenominational service will take place, with white carnations handed out recognizing fallen heroes, with a symbolic dove release taking place.

Closing ceremonies are at 8 p.m. July 3, followed by a final walk-by of veterans past the wall.

Following the closing ceremonies is a fireworks display at dusk, sponsored by the Oswego Fire Department and the Oswego Firefighters Association.

Throughout the weekend, displays near the Moving Wall will be the Missing Man table, honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action. And military vehicles will be stationed there, including an Uh-1 helicopter – a Huey – from the Air Classics Museum in Sugar Grove. Visitors may climb up in the Huey and learn about the aircraft from museum members.

Museum curator and Vietnam veteran Hank Winkler of Sugar Grove said that it's often cathartic for veterans to be back in the Huey.

“Sometimes, this is the first time they ever talked about their experiences with anyone,” said Winkler.

The Moving Wall pays tribute to soldiers lost in Vietnam and to veterans who fought there and might not have been honored when they returned.

“When they came back, they weren't always welcomed well,” said Batavia resident and Korean conflict veteran Robert Horbus.

Schedule of events for the Moving Wall in Oswego

When: June 29 through July 3

Where: Prairie Point Park, 4120 Plainfield Road, Oswego

To learn more: www.facebook.com/Vietnamwalloswego2017

June 29

8 a.m.: Wall transported in a procession past downtown Oswego's Veterans Memorial to the park 

1 p.m.: Wall opens for continuous viewing through July 3

June 30

9:30 a.m.: Opening ceremony

Evening: Flag retirement ceremony; old flags burned

July 1

1 p.m.: Gold Star and Blue Star families recognition ceremony

6 p.m.: Quilts of Valor ceremony

July 2

9:30 a.m.: Nondenominational service; symbolic dove release

July 3

8 p.m.: Closing ceremonies and final veterans walk-by

Dusk: Fireworks display