Amid the roar of motorcycle engines at Ironton’s Rally on the River, there’s a place for quiet, somber reflection.
Signs posted at the Moving Wall, a half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., request visitors silence their cell phones and be mindful of the fact the display triggers strong emotions from those who come there looking for the names of loved ones who perished in the conflict.
The Moving Wall, which has been touring the country for nearly 30 years, began receiving visitors Thursday after it was escorted to the Ironton Hills Shopping Center by a motorcade that included hundreds of motorcyclists and a number of law enforcement vehicles from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia and set up by volunteers. It’s part of a patriotic display at the shopping center that also includes the Ohio Flags of Honor, which consists of 288 American flags, one for each Ohio service member killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Moving Wall was first displayed in Texas in 1984. It was built by several Vietnam veterans as a traveling display for people who are unable to travel to the nation’s capitol to see the original. American Legion Post 433 is sponsoring its visit to Ironton, which will run through noon on Monday. Ted Riedel of Ironton, who headed up the effort to bring the wall to Ironton, said it took him about two years to get it there.
Opening ceremonies for the wall were Thursday evening. By Friday afternoon, nearly 700 visitors had signed the guestbook, said Arthur Pierson of Ironton, a volunteer who was both overseeing the book and helping visitors locate names on the wall.
Pierson said bringing the wall to Ironton cost roughly $12,000. That included the expense of building a plywood walkway and supports for the panels. The Legion and its associated groups, the Sons of the American Legion, the American Legion Riders and the Legion Auxiliary, held fund-raisers to come up with the money.
Among those visiting the Moving Wall on Friday was Lynn Wellman of Franklin Furnace. The Vietnam veteran said he was looking for the name of Jerry Howerton, a friend and classmate who was among the more than 58,000 killed in the war.
Wellman said he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial once, not long after it was dedicated in 1982, but hadn’t been back since. He said he very appreciative of the Legion bringing the portable version of the wall to town.
“This is really nice. It took a lot of time and effort to get it here,” he said.
Roger Otworth, also of Franklin Furnace, said he was searching for the names of three buddies he served with in Vietnam.
“About two weeks after I got shipped home, my camp was overrun by the enemy,” he said. “I never did hear if they made it out alive or not.” But, he said he couldn’t find their names, so he surmised they must have.
Otworth said he’d never been to Washington to see the full-sized memorial.
Timma Page of Ironville and her 12-year-old grandson, Patrick Page, were scanning the names on the panels for that of Patrick’s great uncle, Michael Hogge.
“I just think it’s really neat they have this here,” Timma Page said, adding she had never been to Washington, but hoped to take a trip there one day soon with Patrick and her five other grandchildren.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.