The Moving Wall is a half-scale replica of Washington DC's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Since 1984, The Moving Wall has toured the country, having installed itself for public viewing at over a thousand towns and cities. A conservative estimate would put the number of visitors in the millions. This blog is dedicated to getting behind The Moving Wall, to revealing how it was built, and what keeps it standing and rolling along.

On The Road With The Moving Wall

I have created a separate blog for this year's visitors to The Moving Wall. On it, they can directly post observations, impressions, reflections, etc. They can also post images. This new blog has the potential to be a great journal or travelogue of The Moving Wall in 2010. Please spread the word.

Here is the blog: http://rollingwiththemovingwall2010.blogspot.com/

I am also quite honored and pleased that Sharon Denitto has requested that her excellent site, Touch The Wall, be linked here. Please visit Touch The Wall, as Sharon's hard work offers a unique perspective on The Wall, and presents information not readily found elsewhere.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Moving Wall: Hardware, worn hard.

John returned to California jazzed. Despite the controversy surrounding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial's design, he was less concerned about the memorial as a proper tribute than he was about the power that that memorial, proper or not, exercised on Vietnam vets. Two things he learned: 

the power of simply seeing a name;

the power of being in community with other vets. 

One could precipitate
a sense of plunging;

the other,
of raising up.

For John, The memorial wasn't important for what it was but for what it did.

Powerful as the memorial was, it wasn't powerful enough. It couldn't give legs to the amputee; couldn't enable the blind to see; couldn't put dough in the pockets of the indigent; couldn't put vacation time on the calendar; couldn't provide travel for widowed wives and fatherless kids, sonless parents and brotherless siblings; couldn't shrink the distance between here and there; it couldn't do a lot of things for vets and their families desirous of going to The Wall in DC but who were physically, financially, or emotionally unable to do so. John felt the huge gap between what The Wall could do, but also what it couldn't do, and he felt the need to remedy that, to close that gap for all vets and their families. To provide them the experience that he and his brothers had in DC.

When he returned to San Jose he and a couple of friends decided to replicate the experience. They made a makeshift memorial of names that they planned on exhibiting in a few towns in the San Jose area. Their efforts were more symbolic than sturdy; I believe he said that those first panels were made out of cardboard.

They took their memorial out into the area, and what they found there was overwhelming, a response far greater than anything they anticipated. The generous outpouring of gratitude and support from those local communities confirmed in John the suspicion that the power of the Wall wasn't anchored in the granite of DC but rather was anchored in the ghosts of memory evoked by it. John realized the Wall was a medium; properly duplicated, those ghosts could be exorcised anywhere. It was then that John got the idea to go farther, much farther than San Jose.

His idea: to replicate The Wall, in miniature, just as it appeared in DC, and take it on the road. With the help of friends he scrambled to find funding, but did. A couple grand. Then, with help from the the Vietnam Veterans Memorial fund, and, with the permission of the National Park Service, in 1983 he returned to Washington and photographed, with great precision, each of The Wall's 140 panels. 

When he returned to San Jose he worked with Norris Shears, an area silk-screen artist and former Vietnam vet himself, and Gerry Haver, to have the photographs converted to silkscreen transparencies. With the generosity of local businesses, he also had made black plexiglass panels, six feet tall where the two wings of The Wall met (1E and 1W),  

gradually winnowing down to a few feet at the wings' extremities (70E and 70W). He and his crew then carefully silk-screened in white letters the names on each panel, exactly as they appeared in DC. The Moving Wall had been created.

That first year, 1984, John set up The (Moving) Wall in four locations; the following year, it hit eighteen stops. In 1987, a second “B” Wall was added to handle the overwhelming demand. A “C” was added in 1989. In 2000, its peak year, John and his colleagues trucked the Wall(s) to sixty-six municipalities, from Angel Fire, NM, to Whittier, CA; from Alaska to Texas; and from Maine to Hawaii. Coordinating the three Walls proved to be too much, though, and in 2001 John retired the “B” Wall. In 2002, he donated the “B” Wall to Pittsburgh State University (KS) who turned it into a permanent memorial.Aerial View, The Pittsburgh State Veterans Memorial 
Since it first hit the road, The Wall has been hosted by over a thousand towns across the United States, and even in Saipan and Guam. (If you'd like to see a full list of all the places The Wall has been, go to http://www.themovingwall.org/docs/history.htm )

The plexiglass construction of the early Wall soon proved insufficient to the task. Sun damage, wind damage, scratches, warping, made the Wall impossible to maintain, and by 1986 John had moved to designing a more durable, roadworthy structure. He replaced the plexiglass panels with metal panels, each painted and baked with a black, tough, high-gloss finish. He silk-screened these metal panels just as he had the plexiglass, and The Wall was reincarnated, identical looks, but more muscle.

And that is The Wall as it exists today. There is still an “A” schedule, now shepherded by Aaron and Lisa,


and a “C” schedule, toted by John and Joy, though one can't help notice two things about the two schedules for this 2010 season. The first is that the “A” schedule as many more stops on its calendar than does the “C”, twenty-two to twelve. Also, the “C” schedule is more geographically circumscribed than is the “A” schedule, with most of its stops in the Midwest (Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, etc.). The “A” Wall will span from California to Georgia. When I asked John why that is, whether requests for The Wall had dropped off, he said, “No. I'm just getting tired. Twenty-six years on the road, and I'm looking to stay a little closer to home.” Fair enough.

Regardless of the route each Wall sets out on, all roads, eventually, lead back to White Pine. Once there to bed down for the winter, each panel will be inspected, touched up when possible,

and completely re-silk-screened when not.

So, when spring rolls around, John will settle for nothing less than perfection as the Walls head out onto the road, not because he is a perfectionist, but because perfection of the Wall is his way of honoring the names on it, and respecting those who'll come before it.

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