The Vietnam Moving Wall Memorial is making its first appearance at an Ivy League school, gracing the Cornell campus this week.
The Moving Wall is a half-sized replica of the original Washington, D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and has been touring for the past 17 years. The opening ceremony was held on the Ag Quad yesterday evening.
“It’s great to be at [a college campus],” said John Devitt, a Vietnam veteran from California and creator of the wall. “That way [students] can learn about [the Vietnam War], understand it, and not treat it as a historical footnote.”
The Wall will be present on campus from May 1-5.
“I built The Wall to share with people I knew couldn’t be in Washington [to see the original],” said Devitt.
Currently, Devitt tours across the country from March through December each year with The Wall.
“[People’s responses] are way beyond anything I ever [expected],” said Devitt. “I expect to be done touring in two years, after visiting two places in every state.”
The Wall is 252.83 feet in length and composed of 74 separate frames made of .100-inch thick aluminum panels. It contains 58,219 names; eight of which were women who served as nurses and 200 of which were Ithaca residents.
“These men and women are heroes,” said Colonel James Wilson, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC), in his opening comments.
“I am elated to see [The Wall] here now,” said Ed Tenorio, a counselor in the New York State Division of Veteran Affairs, and retired First Sergeant in the United States Army.
Tenorio served his last tour of duty stationed at Cornell in the mid to late 1980s.
“The war was not spoken about on this campus [at that time],” he said. “So hopefully it will enlighten the community and bury the negative emotions of the 60s and 70s.”
Mayor Alan J. Cohen ’81 and Richard Crozier, president of the Vietnam Veterans Local 377, were present at the ceremony.
“It’s surreal, but it’s also right and good that we are here today to do this,” Crozier said. “For five days the Ag Quad will be sacred ground.”
In his speech Crozier also sternly warned those who may wish to vandalize The Wall. He reminded them that The Wall was not made in honor of the war, but in honor of human beings. Its purpose is to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, for this country.
“There is no dignity for you in desecrating this wall,” Crozier said. “The soldiers on this wall can no longer defend themselves, they are dead, but they are alive in our memories.”
For the remainder of the week Cornell ROTC members will be present at various commemorative events. There will be a Moving Wall tour on May 2 and 3 from 1 to 1:45 p.m. on the Ag Quad and again from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. on May 4 led by the Cornell ROTC Scabbard and Blade Society. Cornell ROTC units will also host open houses for veterans of all wars in Barton Hall: on May 1, Army veterans, 4:30-6 p.m.; May 2, Navy and Marine veterans, 4:30-6 p.m.; and May 3, Air Force veterans, 4:30-6 p.m.
“I think it is an honor to have The Wall here at Cornell,” said Matt Zimmerman ’01, an ROTC brigade commander.
According to Harvey Baker, a local veteran and former member of the Marine Corps, having The Wall at Cornell augurs another step towards healing conflicts about the war.
“I think it is part of healing for the entire county to see [The Wall],” Baker said. “I have seen the Moving Wall before and I think it is important that people know why it was made. This isn’t about war, it’s about those who fought and made a sacrifice.”
Cohen echoed Baker’s sentiments.
“Healing has to take place and that is the importance of this wall being here,” Cohen said. “It is important to recognize the sacrifices made by the deceased on this wall, and also those who are here with us today.”
The Moving Wall was brought to Cornell through efforts on behalf of Cornell’s Diversity Initiative. According to focus groups held in the fall, veterans are an under-represented group on campus.
“Veterans feel like a hidden minority,” said Sonja S. Baylor, program specialist in the office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality. “People don’t realize they are in the workplace. We wanted to heighten this awareness on campus.”
Devitt charged only $3,000 to bring The Wall to campus. This money was put towards traveling expenses.
“It’s not to get rich,” Baylor said. ” They don’t even like to sell anything at The Wall. Its only to get people to see it.”
For the remainder of the week, Crozier noted that it is customary for The Wall to become a gathering spot for those who wish to remember their loved ones lost in the war. He predicted people will leave flowers, tattered photographs, relics and tears at The Wall as a tribute.
“I predict that we will all be changed forever [by The Wall],” said Crozier. “The rightness and wrongness of the Vietnam War isn’t to be questioned here. This is a memorial and its purpose is to honor soldiers.”
Archived article by Rachel Einschlag