BRATTLEBORO — The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial featuring the names of soldiers who never returned home from the Vietnam War, left a lasting impression within the community before it traveled to the next destination.
“I’m really happy with how it all turned out,” Len Derby, a member of the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 843 in Brattleboro who led efforts to bring the wall to town, said Monday at the site in front of Fulflex on Putney Road in Brattleboro.
Derby said having the wall in Brattleboro allowed those who haven’t seen the monument in Washington, D.C., a chance to see the replica and brought some closure. Veterans Affairs counselors came to talk with veterans during the five-day event.
“I’ve gotten nothing but good comments,” Derby said, especially from Vietnam veterans. “There was a steady flow in and out. It slowed down at nighttime of course but during the day, we had quite an inflow of people.”
Efforts to bring the wall to Brattleboro began in 2019, however, COVID-19 caused the group that travels with the wall to postpone dates around the United States. Everything went smoothly except for one person who nearly collapsed and went to the hospital, Derby said, noting that Rescue Inc. and a local doctor/veteran were on hand if anyone needed medical attention.
An hour before the wall would be dissembled and moved elsewhere, the American Legion Post #5 Color Guard walked the length of the wall while Derby played Johnny Wright’s rendition of “Hello Vietnam” from speakers. He heard the wall is heading to Long Island and Michigan.
“The work they do I just can’t commend enough, the work they do for the Vietnam vet,” he said. “I like the truck.”
Just before the interview started, he snapped photographs of the big pickup truck and trailer used to haul the wall in pieces to the next destination.
Derby called the weather over the last five days “fantastic.” He said he had done “a little praying to the man above” beforehand.
“Can’t complain a bit,” he said.
He recalled seeing people he knows and went to school with coming to the wall. Three of his five sons also came out.
“It was our era when the guys were going in,” Jeanne Lonardo of West Brattleboro said. “How do you pass up seeing it in person?”
Lonardo, who moved from New York about 47 years ago and visited The Moving Wall with Adele Massey of Brattleboro, had friends who served in the war and whose names appear on the wall. Lonardo also has visited the memorial in Washington, D.C.
“We can’t forget history,” she said. “We can’t tear down the monuments. We need to learn.”
Derby said, “You’ll keep making mistakes forever.”
Derby served as a helicopter repairman and crew leader in the Vietnam War. Before the war, he worked for a local roofing company with Jan A. Ulmer.
Ulmer, a lieutenant in the National Guard, was listed as one of the 11 casualties of military members from the local area in the war. Like Derby, he served during the Tet Offensive in 1962.
Derby read about Ulmer’s death in a copy of the Reformer that his parents sent to him.
“I was just blown away,” he said. “It was really a shock.”
Norman VanCor of Spofford, N.H., who served as a reconnaissance Marine and went to Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, said he was sent out in five-person teams to “find the enemy and learn all we can about what they’re doing, why they’re there, how many are there and then report back to intelligence what we found, then either air strikes would go in or infantry.”
“Those five-man teams out in the jungle, that’s all we had, so contact with the enemy would be devastating,” he said.
He described the wall being “therapeutic” for him.
“I’ve talked with so many people over here who have questions and just want to talk about their relatives,” he said. “They see me in the uniform and they want to know about what I did and talk about their relatives and so fourth. It’s been really good. There’s been a lot of crying, including me.”
Unsure whether healing will ever come, VanCor said he still has nightmares from the war. He has visited the memorial in Washington, D.C., many times.
“When people come out here and see the names, it’s just so dramatic,” he said. “Every single name on there, over 58,000, every one of them had a family so that adds up to an awful lot of people through the generations who have a direct relationship with someone on the wall.”
VanCor said Panel 25 West features names of soldiers who died during a mission with him in which they were ambushed.
“One of them was standing right behind me and the other two men were in front of me,” he said. “The other two guys were critically wounded and I carried them out.”
VanCor was not injured in the mission. He said his name was in the running for the Medal of Honor but there were no witnesses so he was awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest individual combat medal.
“The Moving Wall is so well done that it gives people an opportunity to come here and see something exactly as it is in Washington, D.C.,” he said, “but there’s a lot of people who can’t go to Washington.”