Feb. 2, 2019 — The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial foreign military actions undertaken by the United States in the 242 years of the republic. The effect the war had on two generations of Americans —on both those who fought and those who opposed it — deeply impacted our history.
The American ground war began in the Republic of South Vietnam on March 8, 1965, when a deployment of 3,500 U.S. Marines from the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Fredrick J. Karch, landed in Da Nang. Prior to this deployment, the American participation in Vietnam had officially been advisory in nature. But by the end of 1969, there were more than 500,000 troops stationed in Vietnam — and by the time the war ended on April 30, 1975, more than 2,709,918 Americans had served there, with 58,220 war-related casualties and more than 300,000 service personnel wounded.
It was one of the first wars with so much captured on film by individuals and news crews, bringing the war into living rooms across America — another first for a war-time America. And while the conflict resulted in widespread civil unrest on college campuses and in major cities across the country, it also led to the creation of one of the most visited memorials in the world, the Vietnam Memorial Wall, which is permanently located in Washington D.C.
Opened to the public in 1982, “The Wall that Heals” is a sobering tribute to the nearly 60,000 Americans who gave their lives fighting the North Vietnamese and Chinese.
This April, an officially authorized replica of the wall will visit the Spruce Point Retirement Assisted Living and Memory Care Community in Florence.
Kim Pruitt is the Community Relations Director for Spruce Point and her interest in bringing the replica wall extends beyond her duties at the facility.
“I wanted to bring ‘The Wall That Heals’ to Florence to say ‘thank you’ to the 58,313 names on the wall and to every veteran in Florence. And specially to say thank you to my dad who was also a Vietnam vet,” Pruitt said. “A lot of young men and woman lost their lives during this war. The Vietnam Wall can bring closure for some. Seeing a loved one’s name on the wall reminds you that they are not forgotten.”
The full-sized wall in Washington D.C. was designed by Maya Ying Lin, who was 21 years old and still an undergraduate at Yale University at the time she entered the national competition held to select the design of the memorial. The structure Lin designed is made up of two 246-foot-long black granite walls that are scaled from 10 feet tall at the center to 8 inches at the extremes. Each wall has 72 panels, 70 of which list names, along with two panels that remain blank. The memorial wall is surrounded by a two-acre national park maintained by the National Park Service and visited by millions each year.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is a non-profit organization established to advocate for that war’s veterans and to promote a greater understanding of the conflict. In addition to managing the original wall, the group also coordinates the scheduled trips for the traveling replicas.
Heidi Zimmerman, Vice President of Programs and Communications, said she is pleased the wall is coming back to Oregon.
“We received 116 applications to host The Wall That Heals in 2019 and chose 34 sites to visit this year. There are a lot of factors that go into choosing our sites,” Zimmerman said. “We look at whether we’ve been to the area, or the state, before and how recent it was. We look at the proposed location for the site and dates that the host has requested. We hadn’t been in Oregon since 2015. We are thrilled to be on display in Oregon this year with our updated, larger Wall replica and educational displays.”
Approximately 5 million people visit the original wall in D.C. each year and its unique presentation of the names of the casualties has established a hold on the country’s imagination.
“Visiting The Wall means different things to different people — but for all visitors, they are touched by what they see,” Zimmerman said. “Just the sheer volume of names, more than 58,000, inscribed on The Wall causes you to think about the fact that every one of those deaths changed a family forever; that all of those lives were cut short; and all of the ‘what ifs’ that you think about.”
The replica of The Wall that Heals that is coming to Florence is upgraded from earlier versions, having been enlarged and modified to include photos of veterans from the area the wall is visiting.
“Our current exhibit just made its debut in 2018, so even if you’ve seen The Wall That Heals before, you probably haven’t seen this one. The new wall replica is three-quarter size, so it’s 375 feet long and 7.5 feet tall at its highest point,” Zimmerman said.
The previous replica was half-scale and did not feature the mobile education center’s hometown heroes.
“The ongoing interest in the Vietnam War, rekindled by the recent release of the documentary film series by Ken Burns, has in turn led to a more nuanced understanding of the war and how it impacted all Americans,” Zimmerman continued. “It has also allowed individuals with widely differing experiences of the war to find a place of common ground, which for many is ‘The Wall that Heals.’”
The division and acrimony created by America’s involvement in Vietnam left deep scars on the country, some of which have faded as time has passed while others continue to linger.
There are costs associated with bringing the wall to Florence, and Zimmerman and Pruitt are requesting support from local businesses and individuals meeting those obligations.
“While it won’t be on display until April, the host committee will be busy looking for volunteers to help at the event in the time leading up to the event,” Zimmerman said. “They’ll also be looking for community support from sponsors. It takes a lot of effort to bring The Wall That Heals to town and provide the right site with all of the volunteers.
“There is plenty for the community to do for those that would like to get involved.”
The location selected for the display of the traveling wall was critical because of the size of the memorial, but also because of the significance to many members of the extended community, according to Pruitt.
“This event has the potential to bring anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people to Florence. So, everybody will benefit from it. I have met a lot of wonderful people during this. I have heard a lot of stories from people regarding what the wall means to them and I am extremely excited to be able to bring The Wall That Heals to Florence,” she said.
An account has been set up at Banner Bank for monetary donations.
For more information, contact Pruitt at 541-997-6111 or [email protected]