AMVETS hosts The Wall That Heals
In 1999, American architect Peter Eisenman embarked on a building project in which he was to design a Holocaust Memorial as part of a construction project for new government buildings in the German city of Berlin-Mitte. At the unveiling ceremony in May 2005, Eisenman made reference to the function of memorial culture when he said: “It is clear that we won’t have solved all the problems – architecture is not a panacea of evil – nor will we have satisfied all those present today, but this cannot be our intention.”
What I (and I hope most of my readers) took from Eisenman’ s statement is the understanding that memorials, especially ones dedicated to war or atrocity, are not necessarily meant to be viewed as a cure-all for the lingering wounds of a tragedy; that they are a helpful step in the prolonged process of healing rather than the finish line.
In most cases, the healing process contains no finish line – it is on-going. But that’s not to say things can’t get better; while the act of remembrance, specifically through dedication memorials, might not provide complete pacification, it can certainly provide a degree of placation – a means of garnering some closure.
Starting June 25, Jacksonville’s local AMVETS Post 100 chapter will be hosting their own memorial entitled The Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington D.C. designed to travel to communities throughout the United States. Having visited more than 400 American cities and towns since its dedication on Veterans Day 1996, The Wall That Heals will make its next stop at Jacksonville’s downtown square between Thursday June 25 and Sunday June 28.
“About three years ago we decided that if we were really going to do this then we’d need to really start planning it out,” said Jim Duncan, a member of AMVETS in Jacksonville for close to twenty year. “So then a year later, after contacting The Wall That Heals, we got on their schedule, but there’s about a two-year application process and a pretty strict contract you have to follow in order to qualify and raise the money. So we started several fundraisers and other ways of giving back.”
Like the D.C. replica, The Wall That Heals is erected in a chevron-shape and covers approximately 250 feet in length, with the names of victims listed in chronological order according to the day of casualty. Starting at the center/apex, the names work their way out to the end of the East Wall first before picking up again at the far end of the West Wall and again back to the center/apex – uniting the beginning and the end of the war.
“The Wall That Heals really lives up to its name,” Duncan said “The Vietnam War was very divisive for our country and there are a lot of hard feelings still left over from it. Now, a lot of Veterans of Vietnam are reaching retirement age and they’re starting to have issues because they’re not busy all the time, their minds are more free to roam, and in turn there’s a greater need to stuff like VA [Veterans Affairs] services.
“A lot of Vietnam Vets didn’t join organizations like Amvets right away, so we’re hoping to perhaps welcome a few more into our organization, and now that most of them are reaching retirement age, we’d like to have as many as we can get.”
Although Duncan and AMVETS Post 100 have been instrumental in the bringing The Wall to Jacksonville, they stress the fact that the event would not have been possible without the generous dedication of others. Sarah Hautala of WJIL/WJVO, who’s been a strong supporter of Veterans for many years, was, as Duncan describes “the real guiding force behind this whole thing.” In turn, WJIL/WJVO and other contributors who’ve helped in the fundraising efforts, will serve as sponsors for the event.
“It really takes the community coming together,” Duncan said, “it takes a lot of money to host the event and a lot of volunteers to help set up, tear down, and provide security at The Wall, which is open to the public 24 hours a day.”
In terms of what The Wall provides for our local Veterans, Duncan views it as a way to both aid the healing process as well as an instrument for educating younger generations, those who might not fully comprehend what the War in Vietnam meant to the United States and to the era in which it took place. Not only will it help raise awareness regarding the Vietnam era, but also the current situations of those still serving our country.
“This is a chance for the community, the area, to get together and, maybe not necessarily welcome them [Vietnam Vets] home, but to at least say ‘thank you’, and just acknowledge the fact that 60,000 people lost their lives fighting in Vietnam. And what a lot of people don’t know is that ten years after the war, over 180,000 Vietnam Veterans took their own lives, three times as many as those lost in the war. It’s amazing that think about,” Duncan said of the totality of the Vietnam War. “Even today as we sit here, 22 Veterans a day take their life in America, almost one every hour.
“So hopefully The Wall That Heals will give some closure to those who fought in Vietnam as well as their families. The Wall will allow them, and the community at large, to actually see the sacrifices that were made and help them better understand it.”
Beginning on Thursday June 25, there will be a Ribbon-Cutting ceremony at 10 a.m., followed by a Floating Memorial at 6 p.m. The following day, there will be a “Hero’s Homecoming” event from 5 to 8 p.m., sponsored by A. Gaudio & Sons Inc, which will provide a chance to welcome back and visit with old friends and families and other members of the Veteran community. At 8 p.m. Saturday, there will be a Candle Light Vigil along with the Reading of Names of fallen soldiers from the area that can be found on The Wall. Sunday morning at 10 a.m. will be Worship at The Wall, a non-denominational service conducted by Reverend John McCorkle.
If any readers are interested in volunteering at the event, please call WJIL/WJVO at 217-245-5119 for more information. As for information regarding The Wall That Heals and corresponding events, check out The Wall That Heals facebook page, or visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website at http://www.vvmf.org/twth.