Veterans raising money for traveling memorial

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BRATTLEBORO — When it was first unveiled on the National Mall in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not warmly received.

Criticisms ranged from "a monument to defeat, one that spoke more directly to a nation's guilt than to the honor of the war dead and the veterans," a "black gash of shame," a "degrading ditch," and a "wailing wall for draft dodgers and New Lefters of the future."

But over time, the Memorial has lodged itself into the consciousness of America, a symbol that stands apart from all other memorials.

The memorial, designed by American sculptor and architect Maya Ying Lin, is a sloping, V-shaped, 493-foot wall of highly polished black granite that descends 10 feet below grade level at its center. It bears the names of the more than 58,000 Americans killed in the 16-year conflict in Southeast Asia.

It is now the most visited war memorial in the entire country, with 3 to 5 million visitors each year, some of them who fought in the war, or lost a loved one, or have no connection other than what they have read in history books. But no one who visits the wall leaves unaffected.

"It's very emotional," said Len Derby, of Brattleboro, the chapter president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 843, which has members from around the tri-state region. "Seeing all the names ... it strikes you. It's quite a thing to see. It's unlike any memorial I've ever seen."

Chapter 843 is raising funds to bring a version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, what is known as "The Moving Wall," to Brattleboro in September.

"It's an exact duplicate, just a little smaller," said Derby.

The Moving Wall is 265 feet long, made of 74 heavy, black aluminum panels. The biggest difference between the memorial in Washington and The Moving Wall, said Derby, is that the names on the one that will be in Brattleboro Sept. 17 to 20 are raised, rather than etched into the granite.

Just the same, said Derby, the effect is powerful.

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"The war wasn't popular," he said, in an understated way. But the memorial unifies through grief the people who visit it. Derby said he has visited the memorial in Washington several times and has seen The Moving Wall a number of times as well, and during all those visits, he has seen men weep for their lost friends and has seen respectful silence fall over the visitors.

"Fifty years later, a lot of veterans still don't like to talk about Vietnam," said Derby. "But when the wall comes round, the veterans do, too."

Derby hopes not only veterans of the Vietnam War and their loved ones turn out. He thinks this could be an opportunity for people to show support for the Vietnam veterans in their community and is also a chance for school children to learn more about the conflict.

"This is going to be a really worthwhile event," he said.

But to bring The Moving Wall to the Fullflex grounds in Brattleboro, Chapter 843 needs to raise $7,500, which pays for its transport, its assembly and security.

"We've got donations coming in already, but we need more," said Derby.

To make a donation, send a check with "VVA Memorial Fund" in the pay to line to Len Derby, 1161 Collins Road, Brattleboro, Vt., 05301.

Derby, a veteran who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 as a helicopter mechanic and crew chief, hosts a weekly coffee meeting at the American Legion on Tuesdays from 9 to 10 a.m. All veterans are welcome, not just those of the Vietnam War.

According to TheMovingWall.org, John Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver, and other Vietnam veteran volunteers built The Moving Wall. It went on display for the first time in Tyler, Texas, in October of 1984. Two structures of The Moving Wall now travel the country from April through November, spending about a week at each site.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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