STACYVILLE, Maine — A ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans was held in the shadow of the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall Memorial on Saturday.
The “Moving Wall,” which is the half-size replica of the Washington, D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, has been touring the country since 1984. Sponsored by Sherman Area Memorial VFW Post 2299 and its Ladies Auxiliary, the Moving Wall first visited Stacyville in 1999, then again in 2002.
The Moving Wall’s third visit was accompanied by a ceremony offering Vietnam veterans a long overdue “welcome home.”
Ceremonies began with a presentation of colors by the Country Patriots and the Western Maine Young Marines. A recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the national anthem followed.
Recognition of the service and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans began with retired Maj. Gen. Stephen Nichols.
“The display of names on this traveling wall inspires us to remember and to reflect. We remember the people listed here, and we remember the tough times and the good times that we shared with them. We remember, as well, the attitudes and the activities of that time 50 years ago when there was no Vietnam War — there was no sympathy for those who had borne the burden of carrying out our country’s policies. Today we feel sadness for our comrades and friends whose lives were ended too soon, but we also feel a sense of pride for having served for those brave men and women who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country,” Nichols said.
Nichols asked the crowd, who filled the offered seats and spilled out into the parking lot of Katahdin High School, to reflect on times of the past and especially the ill treatment soldiers received upon their return from Vietnam.
He recounted the story of a young woman, who, “marching with bare feet and flowers in her hair,” screamed at Vietnam veterans for the “crimes they had committed against humanity.” Today, Nichols said, she deeply regrets these actions and makes a point to apologize to every Vietnam veteran she meets.
Nichols then asked the veterans in attendance to be sure their stories were not lost.
“The perception of today’s kids is different. They admire and respect your service, and believe that you did extraordinary things. They listen to you. You can shape their attitudes about courage and loyalty and determination and patriotism and optimism. You can make them better citizens as they grow to be adults. I urge you to do that — to tell young family members of your recollections of Vietnam and about all the wonderful people with whom you served … You owe it to them,” Nichols said as he gestured to the Moving Wall.
David Olson, Department of Maine VFW commander, followed Nichols at the podium.
“To all the Vietnam veterans out there: Welcome Home,” Olson began.
Olson recounted the welcome home that was received at the end of the Vietnam war, which consisted of hostile crowds who would spit on soldiers as they passed. He expressed his thankfulness that soldiers today are welcomed home warmly, thanked for their service and even applauded.
“There are 58,272 names on the wall. Two-hundred eighty of them were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor … 234 names have been added since the dedication of the wall. Through the years, countless veterans have lost their lives so that we may live in the land of the free and definitely the home of the brave … In closing, no war will ever be forgotten, and we need to remember this always,” Olson said.
Auxiliary President Allison Roy then shared a song titled “Brother of Mine.” The song expressed the emotion felt when one loses a brother.
“I touch your name, is that you on the other side? I touch your name, is that you calling mine?” Roy sang to the crowd.
The end of the song was met with tears and applause.
Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, then spoke, recounting her family’s history of military service and the steps she has taken to designate March 30 as Vietnam War Remembrance Day.
“My goal is to have this day nationally recognized,” Briggs said.
“The New York Times quoted Richard Nixon as saying ‘No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War.’ It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now,” Briggs added.
“Today is for all of us present, for all Mainers and beyond who wish to say to each of you Vietnam veterans: we’re sorry, thank you, and welcome home,” Briggs concluded.
Retired Lt. Col. Peter Ogden, U.S. Army and director of the Bureau of Veteran’s Services was then introduced. Ogden aims to reach out to all veterans and was present to act for the state’s recognition program that honors veterans.
In addition to gold, silver and bronze medals for those who died in combat, purple heart recipients and prisoners of war, and those who died in the line of duty, certificates of appreciation are also bestowed upon veterans.
“The certificates match the plaques that hang in the Hall of Flags in Augusta,” Ogden explained. He then presented veterans in attendance with these certificates to conclude his speech, shaking the hand of each individual and offering them a warm “welcome home.”
A patriotic cantata was held inside the school auditorium at 7 p.m. and was led by Roy and a “Table for One” ceremony was held on Sunday to recognize all Maine Vietnam POW-MIAs.
The Moving Wall’s third visit was concluded on Monday after the week’s events.