With Further Ado #266: A Somber Gathering

We’ve been talking about comic conventions and fandoms lately. This is completely different but more similar than I ever expected.

This past weekend, my wife and I volunteered for a pop-up traveling exhibition, and I’m glad we did. I was surprised that it was – although so appropriately somber – like so many of the activities and gatherings we’ve been spotlighting in this column.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) manages The Wall That Heals and their national tour schedule for 2023. The Wall That Heals exhibit includes a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial along with a mobile Education Center. This is the 28th season of The Wall That Heals has been on the road, and last weekend it visited our town Auburn, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.

The traveling exhibit is designed, like the “actual” Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, to honor the more than three million Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Vietnam War. Like the real wall, it bears the names of the 58,281 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.
As volunteers, we were trained on the history of the wall and the traveling exhibit so that we could explain it all to visitors. There wasn’t a lot of introspection into the Vietnam War itself, but more of a celebration of the young men (and eight women) who died during this war.

The Wall That Heals is also about those who came home and family members providing a place for emotions to surface and to comfort. It honors the soldiers that returned home, but were tragically affected by the war with mental health issues, injuries, alcoholism and more.

Like the gatherings I’ve been writing about all summer, passionate folks of all kinds turned up at this. Some had seen this replica and the real wall many times. Some were Vietnam experts, and it was fascinating to listen to them compare notes about the details of it all. At one point, they were even discussing recent episodes of a Vietnam Podcast.

An organizer, who knew of my comics passion, even suggested I put my efforts into a creating a graphic novel of the wall. I was especially impressed how this crowd was able to aside politics and judgements. Instead, there was just a sadness for the many lives affected in so many ways.

Breathtaking in its simplicity, the replica was awesome in the classic sense of that overused word. Here’s a little more about it from the website:

The three-quarter scale Wall replica is 375 feet in length and stands 7.5 feet high at its tallest point. With the replica at this size, visitors are able to experience The Wall rising above them as they walk towards the apex, a key feature of the design of The Wall in D.C.

Like the original Memorial, The Wall That Heals is erected in a chevron-shape and visitors are able to do name rubbings of individual service member’s names on The Wall. The names are listed in order of date of casualty and alphabetically on each day. Beginning at the center/apex, the names start on the East Wall (right-hand side) working their way out to the end of that wing, picking up again at the far end of the West Wall (left-hand side) and working their way back in to the center/apex. The first and last casualties are side by side at the apex of the Memorial.

The replica is constructed of Avonite, a synthetic granite, and its 144 individual panels are supported by an aluminum frame. Modern LED lighting from the top of The Wall provides readability of The Wall at night.

The Wall That Heals is transported from community to community in a 53-foot trailer. When parked, the trailer opens with exhibits built into its sides, allowing it to serve as a mobile Education Center telling the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall and the divisive era in American history.

Interested in seeing this or volunteering? I’d recommend it. Here’s the schedule for the balance of the year:

• New York City, N.Y. September 28 – October 1
• Lindenhurst, N.Y. October 5 – 8
• Lemont Furnace, Pa. October 12 – 15
• Caldwell, Ohio October 19 – 22
• Phoenixville, Pa. October 26 – 29
• Havelock, N.C. November 2 – 5
• Spartanburg, S.C. November 9 – 12
• Nags Head, N.C. November 16 – 19

More information is available at vvmf.org.