THE ISSUE: The Moving Wall, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is making a five-day stop in Brownwood.
THE IMPACT: Crowds from throughout the region gathered to pay their respect, while veterans reminisced about their service time.
A visitor to the Moving Wall, the traveling half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., quietly posed that question to another visitor Friday night.
“No,” the second visitor replied, then clarified he was a military veteran who’d had no involvement with the Vietnam War.
An orange full moon glowed above the 36th Division Memorial Park in Brownwood, where the wall has been set up since Thursday morning. The wall is open for viewing round the clock until through Monday, when it will be taken down and driven to its next destination.
Floodlights bathed the park, located across the street from Brownwood Regional Medical Center. During the nighttime visit, the sound of chirping crickets was louder than the occasional quiet conversations as visitors moved slowly along the wall’s path.
The wall is inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 service men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. Bringing the wall to Brownwood was a project of the Pecan Valley Military Veterans and Family Support Coalition. This is the wall’s third visit to Brown County.
The wall, in two sections, is just under 253 feet long. The wall includes the names of 16 military chaplains and 1,300 MIAs and POWs.
Viewing began Thursday, and an opening ceremony was held Friday morning. Saturday morning, American Legion Post 196 conducted a POW/MIA ceremony which included a small, unoccupied table set for one.
“They’re referred to as MIAs/POWs,” post commander Chuck Dodds said. “We call them comrades. … We we ask God, our supreme commander, that all of our comrades may be within our ranks.”
Dodds said the Vietnam War was “a different war that was fought” and returning combatants were not greeted with gratitude.
Under the bright Saturday morning sun, conversations grew louder and more frequent as streams of visitors stopped at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial, also located at the 36th Division Memorial Park, before walking on to the Moving Wall about 100 yards away. Veterans, family members of visitors and those with no direct connection to the military talked with each other.
After the POW/MIA ceremony, American Legion members and other visitors gathered around 74-year-old Robert O’Malley of Goldthwaite. O’Malley was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat as a Marine Corps corporal in Vietnam in 1965.
O’Malley laughed and talked easily with visitors before walking to the mall with his wife, Barbara, and finding the name of a kindergarten classmate who went on to join the Marines, losing his life in Vietnam combat.
O’Malley was greeted by another former Marine, John Barho Jr., of Priddy. Barho served in the Marines from 1970-’76.
“Simper Fi. Oorah,” Barho called out as the two men exchanged salutes.
“I’ve never seen this,” Barho said. “I had to come. I had to come see it.”
Later, San Angelo resident Dan Torres, who served in Vietnam as an Army medic, searched for names on the wall with the help of Sam Harrell, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3278 Auxiliary. Torres said he had attended the funerals of six fellow soldiers after he came home from the war.
“Oh, it means a lot,” Torres said of visiting the wall. “It brings back a lot of memories. I never thought I’d come out alive.”
San Angelo residents and brother-and-sister Allen Carpenter and Lindell Blackburn, Zephyr High School graduates, visited the wall with Blackburn’s daughter, Michele Casstevens, of San Antonio. They have no connection to the military or the Vietnam War but were awed by the wall.
“It’s impressive — very impressive,” Blackburn said.
“Sobering,” Casstevens added.
A candlelight closing ceremony will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, and viewing ends at 4 p.m. Monday.