At the site of the Moving Wall the wind never lets the flags rest, people come and go, sorrowful conversation is interlaced with fond memories, and even the wall itself is here one day but gone the next. The one constant is that veterans are never forgotten, especially by those they served with and for.
On October 1, Santa Barbara’s chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) dedicated the Moving Wall to the 98 Santa Barbara County service members who died in the Vietnam War. The ceremony in Chase Palm Park also honored the additional 58,000 U.S. soldiers killed in battle. A flyover of aircraft used during the war followed the final speaker.
The Moving Wall is the mobile replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. This 250-foot-long wall arrived in Santa Barbara on September 29 and will be available to view until noon on October 3.
“Some people can’t go to Washington D.C. to see the real thing, so they can come out and see this,” said Sergeant Mario Pintor, a VVA Chapter 218 docent. “It’s also a chance for people to say their goodbyes and, hopefully, get closure.”
While some visitors on Saturday walked around the memorial with tears in their eyes, others were proud to remember those that were lost. “They died for our country, and they deserve our respect,” said Santa Barbara resident Phillip Bock.
The ceremony not only commemorated those who died — all 98 names of the county’s casualties were read aloud — but also recognized those who live. Three veterans were presented with awards while speakers addressed current military and veteran issues.
The Vietnam Veterans Award recipients were recognized for their service to country, community, and fellow veterans. “To be honored by peers for doing what you love means everything, and I receive this [award] in the shadow of those on the wall behind me,” said Brigadier General USMCR (Ret.) Frederick Lopez. “I’ve got a lot of friends on that wall.”
When U.S. Representative Lois Capps took the podium she spoke to the “awe-inducing qualities” of the memorial and how it ensures that those who died in Vietnam will not be forgotten.
Many parents and grandparents also saw the day as a chance to remember the Vietnam War era and teach younger generations about the historical period. Jim Mendez brought his two children to “give them a sense of what this is all about,” he said, “because I think they need to be enlightened about the past.”
He and other visitors wanted to provide their young companions with context for what was considered unpopular war. “The [soldiers] who came back were vilified, and many still don’t like to talk about their experiences,” said Mendez. Linda McMillan brought her two grandchildren and recalled, “[The war] really was for our principles and what our country stands for. I know it was unpopular, but it was all for future generations.”
Capps also spoke about appreciation for those who return from war, and called on all to remember the country’s responsibility to its veterans. “Leave no soldier behind on the battlefield, and leave no veteran behind in our country,” said Capps.
Keynote speaker Major General Joseph Franklin (Ret.) received a standing ovation after he spoke to the United States Military’s uniqueness. “Your army didn’t revolt or hold government hostage,” said Franklin. “This is the only nation that can say that throughout its history.” From there he narrowed his focus to the unique identity of the Vietnam War and its veterans. According to Franklin the Vietnam veterans helped build the all-volunteer force and now young people are “stepping up beyond the number we actually need.”
As the crowd dispersed, John Blankenship, cofounder of The Pierre Claeyssens Veterans’ Museum & Library, read one more name. “We don’t want to forget anyone,” he said.