NEWBURY — Not everyone has the means or the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is why The Moving Wall that arrived at Plum Island Airport last week is so special.
The half-sized replica of the memorial will remain at the airport until Tuesday at 7 a.m.
The Moving Wall was built in the early 1980s by John Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver and other Vietnam War veterans who saw a need to share the experience of the memorial with people around the country who may not be able to travel.
For more than 30 years, the wall has toured the U.S., providing people with the chance to see the more than 58,000 names on the memorial in Washington, D.C.
The wall drew more than 1,000 people on Friday and close to 1,300 on Saturday.
Dennis Palazzo, the local Moving Wall organizer and Yankee Homecoming president, said he hoped to see close to 1,500 on Sunday.
In addition to honoring the more than 58,000 people listed on the memorial, the wall serves as a way to bring people — even strangers — together, he said.
“People are bonding over this and they’re meeting people that they never would have met before,” Palazzo said, explaining how veterans have been able to exchange stories and feel a sense of community in a way they might not have otherwise experienced.
The memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day. Palazzo has seen people come by and sit on the benches at 2 a.m.
“We’re just here to honor the veterans, both those alive and who have passed,” he said.
Some of the memorial’s Greater Newburyport heroes include Freddie N. Chase and Robert K. Parker, both of Newburyport, Donald A. Wilkinson of Newbury, Douglas J. Kelly of Salisbury, William B. Justin of Amesbury, Frederick V. Seaborne of Merrimac, Stephen E. Krajeski and William R. Ryan, both of Groveland, and Peter R. Turcotte of Rowley.
Garrett Green of Lowell, who served two tours in Vietnam between August 1968 and August 1970, was a 3rd Class boatswain’s mate in the U.S. Navy.
He has never been to the memorial in Washington or seen any of the traveling replicas. On Sunday, he visited The Moving Wall for the first time, saying that recent events in Afghanistan and around the world gave him a reason to finally see it, rain or not.
Green, who Palazzo pinned with a Vietnam veteran lapel pin on Sunday, doesn’t regret his time serving overseas.
On his first tour in Vietnam, he served on the USS New Jersey, which was later decommissioned and turned into a museum ship in Camden, New Jersey. On his second tour, he hauled cargo and supplies on a riverboat.
Green continues to attend reunions aboard the ship. His name is even inscribed in brick on a pier that overlooks the Delaware River between Philadelphia and where the USS New Jersey museum ship is located.
When asked what he hopes people will take away from their experience at The Moving Wall, Green said it is all about “awareness” and paying attention to what is happening around the world.
“With all the things that are happening in Afghanistan, people are really starting to pay attention,” he said.
Regardless of political affiliation, Green thinks it’s important that people have a better awareness of the world at large.
The Moving Wall’s 156 volunteers have been working in shifts around the clock. Most of them arrive early and stay late, not wanting to leave.
Volunteer supervisor Peter Houvouras said he spent about a half hour wiping the wall Friday, which is a way to keep the panels waxed and clean.
As he was wiping the wall, he begin reading each name, either aloud or to himself.
Houvouras even apologized as he went along, recognizing that he might not pronounce everyone’s name correctly.
“I knew what I was doing, but it wasn’t really sinking in,” he said.
As he was driving home from the wall, however, a thought struck Houvouras, “I just wiped 58,000 names.”
Just acknowledging that all of those lives were lost, having said each of their names aloud, he broke down crying.
So, as his volunteer shift ends each day, he often feels the need to just stay. Every time he walks away from the wall, “I feel like it’s pulling me back,” he said.
A veteran put it in perspective for him, telling Houvouras, “You’re looking at them” — as in the names listed on the wall — “but they’re looking back at you.”
“I never thought of it that way,” he said.
Another volunteer, Lori Sousa of Lowell, lost her father, Mike Zimmerman, a Vietnam veteran, in 2015. He died from cancer related to exposure to Agent Orange — a powerful herbicide used by the U.S. military to destroy trees and crops in Vietnam.
After he died, Sousa knew she needed to “fill the hole” of him being gone, so she started volunteering with Vietnam memorial replica wall events, including The Wall That Heals and The Traveling Wall. This was her fourth time volunteering for such an event and she already has more opportunities scheduled in the future.
In 2016, Zimmerman was inducted into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund In Memory Program, which recognizes Vietnam veterans who have died due to exposure to Agent Orange, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and other causes related to their service.
This provided Sousa with a way to honor her father and she works to encourage other families and friends to do the same.