Vietnam veteran and Ninilchik resident Art Peters said he vividly remembers the first time he saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2007.
The memorial, which features the names of 58,272 soldiers killed in the conflict from 1955 to 1975, holds a deep meaning for all those who see it, Peters said, especially those who served.
But Peters, a former Army medic, said its impact on him was somewhat unique.
“That represents my failures,” he said. “... I looked up names of guys specifically that I knew that died, in fact I put their bodies in the bags. I looked them up, found their names and it was just a time of contemplation.”
Local veterans and the Peninsula community at large will have an opportunity to view and contemplate those same names this summer, but on a slightly different wall. The Moving Wall, a half-scale replica of the permanent memorial, will visit Ninilchik from June 15-22.
The wall, which has been to thousands of cities around the nation since the early 1980s, was most recently on Peninsula when it came to Soldotna from June 11-17, 1995. It also came to Kenai in June of 1985.
Peters, the chairman of the Ninilchik veterans group hosting the wall, said about 20 volunteers have been working hard to prepare for the wall’s arrival. The monument will be set up for visitors for those six days behind the American Legion building in Ninilchik.
“The community has really turned out well,” Peters said. “... Everybody is on board.”
Peters said those wanting to help with the effort are welcome to attend weekly planning meetings hosted at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at the American Legion in Ninilchik. Donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 39656, Ninilchik, 99639.
A group of American Legion Riders representing all areas of the Peninsula will usher the wall and its truck from Sterling through Soldotna to Ninilchik on motorcycles, Peters said. An opening ceremony is planned for 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 16.
Peters said there will be daily ceremonies, programs, displays and memorabilia, among others, on the American Legion grounds. The wall will be open for visitors 24 hours a day because some veterans might not want to come see the wall during the festivities, Peters said.
“The vets that show up, that are Vietnam vets, will be mentally prepared if they bring their families,” he said. “The ones that come one-by-one in the dark of the night, they will not be prepared for the enormity of seeing 58,272 names in one inch high letters along a wall that is a little over 300 feet long.”
Peters said even though the wall isn’t the original, it is still an overwhelming sight to approach. It not only comes from the impact of the names, but also the memories of the war and when those soldiers came home.
“A lot of guys have sour stomach with the United States, but we fought for it,” he said. “They stay in hiding, they stay quiet and they stay remote. You find guys living out in the Bush, they served a year in Vietnam and they went home and there were no brass bands for those soldiers, there were no ‘Welcome homes’ or anything like that.”
Joe Fields, statewide coordinator for The Moving Wall, said that’s exactly the point of it — a second chance to honor those veterans.
“It is a matter of giving the guys from Vietnam the parade they didn’t get, so to speak, and celebrating their lives and honoring them,” said Fields, a Fairbanks resident. “There are a lot of veterans who have come out of the woodwork and found their experiences were validated and they have lived pretty good lives.”
The Moving Wall is also scheduled for Haines from May 22-29; Fairbanks, June 1 to 7; Wasilla, June 8-14; and Anchorage at dates to be determined.
Fields said the tour is planned as the last visit of The Moving Wall to Alaska and has taken the theme “Remembrance, gratitude, farewell.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.