December 2000/January 2001
The Moving Wall
John Devitt: Travels With The Wall
By Jim Belshaw
In 1982, Vietnam Veterans Memorial surprised John Devitt. Heíd gone
to Washington from his San Jose, California, home mainly for the reunion
aspect of The Wallís dedication. He was certain he wasnít going
to like the memorial itself. Heíd read about it, followed its
controversial beginnings. He couldnít imagine being moved by a block of
stone. The last thing he expected to feel was pride.
Heíd been a First Calvary door gunner. In the twelve years that
passed since his return from Vietnam, heíd known bitterness and anger.
After that day at The Wall in 1982, it occurred to him that heíd
hardly noticed how angry he was. Anger and bitterness had become part of
him, second nature.
He hadnít known anything else until that day, when pride washed over
him and he remembered all the reasons he had been proud so many years
"I walked up to The Wall and I felt this intense
pride," he said. "I hadnít felt that since the day I left
Vietnam. It was one thing nobody had mentioned in the twelve years Iíd
been home. Everybody talked about guilt. I had tried guilt and it didnít
work. I was very proud of the guys I was with and especially the ones who
were killed. You canít give more than that. I was so glad to see their
names out there in the public."
In the week of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedication, it seemed to
him that he couldnít turn on the TV or read a newspaper story without
seeing the word "finally" -- Vietnam veterans can "finally
lay to rest ..." or "finally put behind them ..."
The word grated.
"It was like, wait a minute, I just got here and I know all kinds
of guys who arenít here yet and I was afraid the media was going to put
a spin on it that it wasnít that a big a deal going to The Wall.
And it was a big deal. You could look at The Wall and see what a
big deal it was. It rekindled that pride. It made me remember."
Back home in San Jose, he was "jazzed" to do something,
Eighteen years later, heís still doing it.
He is on the road 10 months a year. He drives a truck and hauls a
trailer. In the trailer are panels with more than 58,000 names. He
crisscrosses the country, setting up The Moving Wall, watching the 1982
scene repeat itself over and over again.
"Over the years Iíve seen it do the same thing The Wall
did to me in 1982," he said. "It generates pride. It's
Shortly after returning home, he talked with friends, looking for a way
to channel the energy and motivation that comes with being
"jazzed" to do something. Someone suggested a replica of The
Wall. The idea didnít go far. Most people wanted to shelve it
"But in my mind, it seemed pretty simple", Devitt said.
"Of course, in my mind, I was pretty simple, too. I thought. Well,
how hard can it be to put 58,000 names on a wall?"
He kept talking it up. One day a friend pulled $2,000 out of his
savings and said, "Letís go for it." Devitt pooled what little
money he had. They knew nothing about fund-raising. All they had in the
way of a plan was to start the project, get it off the ground, and then
when they had something to show for the effort, people might be more
willing to donate money to support it.
They returned to Washington and took photographs of The Wall,
thinking that they would create a photographic mural. But when they
enlarged the photos of the two center panels, thenames at the top were
"Our commitment was to make it a respectful memorial, not just a
picture of The Wall," Devitt said. "We wanted to let
people walk up and see the names."
A friend in Silicon Valley suggested that they silkscreen the names, an
idea that sent them back to where they started--they needed good artwork.
Devitt called the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and asked if he could
borrow the negatives the fund had used to make stencils. To his surprise,
the answer was yes.
"I called the architects, they asked for a name and address, and
the next day Federal Express dropped off three big boxes of
negatives," Devitt said. "It was amazing. To have those boxes of
negatives was like having some sacred relic or something. It was
Next, they needed to reverse the negatives to positives and then have
them enlarged. Devitt went to a company in Sunnyvale, explained the need,
and said he had little money but that he thought the idea was good enough
that people would support it.
The company owner extended an $8,000 credit. When Devitt finally got
the money to pay off the debt, the owner sent back $1,500.
"He was very supportive of veterans," Devitt said. "He
said the $1,500 was his contribution."
The project began to attract local media attention. Each time an
article appeared, donations spiked a little, but soon dwindled. Devitt
thought it might help if he got some kind of government support.
He took a panel to a San Jose City Council meeting, hoping to explain
the project well enough to leave with a letter of endorsement from the
city. The council agreed to the letter, then quickly discussed the issue
further and committed $16,000to the project.
In June 1984, Devitt received a telephone call from an AmVets group in
Tyler, Texas. Theyíd heard about his replica of The Wall. Could
he bring it to Tyler in October?
"It was June," Devitt said. "We didnít have to go
until October. I thought we had plenty of time."
The last panel was silkscreened the night before he left for Tyler. He
had never set up the structure before and didn't know how he was going to
brace it to keep it from toppling over, but he figured he had more than
two days of driving time to find a solution.
In Tyler, it took eight hours to assemble the panels. It was the first
time Devitt had seen his wall standing.
"It was powerful right from the start," he said. "To see
the panels stacked up against a wall is one thing, but to see it all up is
something else again. It was awesome. Itís why Iím still doing it
today. We saw the results every time we lifted a panel. It was impossible
to walk away from it. Its effect on people was the same thing you see in
Washington. The structure was different because itís smaller, but I donít
think people pay attention to the size. They pay attention to the
magnitude of it."
There are three Moving Walls now, each traveling the country,
each in demand every year. Devitt says the requests never diminish. Many
localities want it back again and again.
"My attitude has changed so much since I began doing this,"
he said. "I used to think maybe ten percent of the people had a
handle on The Wall, they understood the ethics and morals on which
it was founded. And the other 90 percent were just mindless. But after
doing this, I found the exact opposite. The mindless ten percent just
happen to get in the news all the time. There are a lot of caring people
out there who understand the sacrifice and who are grateful to have the
opportunity to come out as a community to give honor and recognition to
those who lost their lives."
Twenty-five years after the war ended--and often longer than that since
a loved one died in it--they still come to The Wall. Eighteen years
after The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, 16 years
after the first moving walls were built and began touring the country,
they still come, oblivious to the differences in size or scope of the
They donít come for its size and scope. They come for the names.
"Thereís nothing abstract about somebodyís name," said
John Devitt, one of The Moving Wallís builders. "You look at a name
and you think of a person who had hopes and dreams and family and
Fred Frappiea Jr., had such hopes and dreams. They ended on ending on
March 22, 1968, in Thua Thien, South Vietnam. He was 20 years old, a PFC
in the 101st Airborne, Division when he was killed in action.
His name appears on Panel 45E, Line 55. His mother, Lona Frappiea, 78,
has never seen it.
She went to The Moving Wall when it came to Bennington, Vermont., near
her home in Saxtons River. But she could not bring herself to look at his
name. To look at his name would mean that she had to give him up.
"I'll go where The Wall is, but I wonít go where his name
is," she said. "I've never gone."
When The Moving Wall came to Vermont, she went on a day set aside to
honor Gold Star parents. She wrote a letter to her son.
A volunteer placed it at the foot of the portable wall under his name.
"I had just become acquainted with VVA and the more I saw of them,
the better I liked them," she said. "You can't get any better
friend than a Vietnam veteran. Theyíre just wonderful people. Theyíre
my families. I have never met a Vietnam veteran I didnít love. I wish I
could get more Gold Star Mothers active because they don't know the love
theyíe missing. A lot of people ask me how can I get up and do it, and I
tell them, "itís not how can I get up and do it. I do it for my
When The Wall comes to a community, the community invariably responds.
When The Wall That Heals, sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund,
came to Delaware County, Pa., George Brown spoke of an
"outpouring" of support.
"You really donít know what to expect," he said. "The
things people left at The Wall showed how it impacted them. Mementoes, the
kind of thing you find down at Washington. But knowing The Wall was
temporary, you wouldnít expect the effort to make up the little things
A friend had gotten involved in the effort to bring The Wall That
Heals to Delaware County. Brown advised on the protocols that needed
to be followed and helped in the research.
"Thereís more awareness today of how people were treated,"
he said. "There are still a lot of family members around and we have
quite a few Gold Star Mothers in the county. But I talked to three or four
guys who had never been to The Wall."
In Vermont in 1991, John Miner was one of them. The Moving Wall had
come to Rutland for two weeks. He couldnít bring himself to go until the
last day. Then friends said they were going and asked him along.
"I got up there and one of those weird things happened," he
said. "A guy came up with a book and asked if he could help me. I
said, "No, I was just walking."
Eventually, Miner came back to the volunteer with the book. There was a
FAC, he said, a Capt. Miller from Massachusetts. He was shot down and
"The guy looked it up and he looked at me and said, `Itís right
behind you,í ĎĎ Miner said.
When Miner became president of Chapter 601 in Bennington, he vowed to
bring The Moving Wall back. He formed a committee, contacted organizations
around the town, and got commitments for money needed to cover the
"The level of community support was mind boggling,
unbelievable," he said.
The local newspaper did a story a day, business owners gave employees
time off work to read names from The Wall, food was donated, and the
National Guard provided tents.
"It was remarkable," Miner said. "I think a lot of it
came from people needing to know. They came from all over the state and
from Massachusetts and New York, too. Every time I turned around, there
was a story happening."
Like the accident of his standing in front of the name he sought,
coincidences and connections came from surprising places.
A veteran seeks a Gold Star Mother to talk about her son, his buddy
from Vietnam. Two days later, a retired couple from New York ask about a
name, a boy the man taught in grammar school.
Itís the same name.
A motorcycle rider comes alone. For three days, he speaks to no one.
Finally, Miner and others approach and offer him coffee. He declines,
saying he wants only to hear one name read.
They ask if he would like to read the name himself.
"He read it," Miner said. "As soon as he did, he rode
off and we never saw him again."
Charlene Moffitt, another Vermonter and the sister of Clifton Bacon,
who died in Vietnam in 1966, is the only member of her family who has
touched his name. Itís high on The Wall in Washington and when
she went there in 1982 for its dedication, someone showed her the ladder
she could use.
"When we buried him, it was never settled," she said.
"They sent him home in a sealed coffin. I didnít really believe it
was true. But when I saw his name on The Wall, I thought, thatís
Her sister, Christine Bacon, said The Wall "brought him
"It was painful to see, but it confirmed it," she said.
"I was only sixteen when he died. Charlene was eighteen, and it was
like you couldnít believe it. It brought him home. A lot of people in
the 60s said a lot of negative things. When The Wall came to
Bennington, it was like saying he's a good person and heís home again.
We can be proud now. He's got his own place now. We donít need to
protect him anymore."
They grew up in a small town in a small state. There were 14 children
in their hometown and five of them came from the Bacon family. Eight years
separated the five. Clifton Bacon was 21 when he was drafted, 22 when he
"The Moving Wall, the real Wall, itís hard, all those
people, all those guys and women, what they went through," Charlene
said. "I'll always go. If I could go tomorrow, Iíd go."
The Moving Wall
The Moving Wall is a half-size replica of the Washington, D.C., Vietnam
Veterans Memorial. It has been touring the country for the past 16 years.
The Wall was built by John Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver and other
California veterans. It first went on display in October 1984 in Tyler,
Sponsors frequently are civic groups, schools or veterans
organizations. Sponsoring usually requires months of planning by many
There are three Moving Walls that typically travel the country 10
months a year.
Scheduling may be arranged by sending e-mail to Vietnam Combat
Veterans, Ltd. at JohnDV8@aol.com. ,
telephone: 408-288-6305 or write to Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd., 1267
Alma Court, San Jose CA 95112-5943.
More information may be found on the Internet at www.themovingwall.org.
The Wall That Heals
On Veterans Day 1996, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund unveiled a
half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington,
designed to travel to communities throughout the country.
The replica is constructed of powder-coated aluminum and is made up of
24 individual panels, each containing six columns of names.
Since its dedication, The Wall That Heals has visited more than 100
cities and towns. It made its first-ever international journey in April
1999 to the Four Provinces to honor the Irish-born casualties of the
Vietnam and the Irish-Americans who served.
The Wall That Heals includes a Traveling Museum and Information Center
designed to provide a comprehensive education component to the exhibit.
For more information, write to: The Wall That Heals -- The Vietnam
Veterans Memorial Fund's Traveling Wall, 1023 15th Street NW, Second
Floor, Washington, DC 20005; telephone 202-393-0090. (Fax --
202-393-0029); e-mail: email@example.com .
Detailed information may be found on the Internet at www.vvmf.org
The Wall on the Web
Two Web pages go by the name "The Virtual Wall." They are
separate entities with no connection to one another except for subject
matter. One is produced by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the
second affiliated with The Moving Wall.
Web surfers should take note of the small but critical differences in
The Virtual Wall (The Moving Wall) -- www.virtualwall.org
Begun in March 1997, the Web site provides a place for memorials to the
men and women named on The Wall. Visitors may leave tributes, letters,
poems, photos and other memorials.
The Webmasters wish to provide an environment like The Wall itself --
one marked by dignity and respect. The Web site contains no flashy
distractions, commercials and does not ask for monetary donations.
The Virtual Wall was founded by a Vietnam veteran who then enlisted an
advisory board that went on to establish The Virtual Wall Association.
As a public service, Integration, Inc., of Batavia, N.Y., provides the
server, disk space and bandwidth at no cost. The Webmaster is Jim
Schueckler (192nd Assault Helicopter Company, Vietnam, 1969). He may be
contacted at: FlewHuey@iinc.com
The Virtual Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund) -- www.thevirtualwall.org
This Web site offers visitors veteran profiles, remembrances, reunion
postings, name rubbings, custom reports and more.
Originally launched on November 10, 1998, by Vice President Al Gore,
the site lists more than 30 million hits and 18,000 remembrances.
Features include a monthly guest column and regular monthly chat with
an expert on Vietnam, more than 1,300 prepared reports and special
sections for new remembrances.
The Web page is a partnership between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
fund and Winstar Communications.