Inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., are the names of 58,000 fallen Vietnam-era soldiers.
A half-size replica of that memorial — The Traveling Wall — and the names it contains are slated to hit the city of Peoria this fall.
Ironwood District Councilman Bill Patena was the leading force and inspiration in bringing the wall to Peoria.
From visiting both the Washington, D.C., memorial in person and seeing The Moving Wall in person, Patena gave a lot of thought when pursuing this project. He knew that he had to bring it home.
“First of all, I want to give the opportunity for everyone in the West Valley who has not had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., or to see The Moving Wall and experience it,” Patena said.
“The second reason is I’m hoping we’re going to get a ton of young adults — high school kids and some grade school kids — to come out and look at the wall. When you fight a war half a world away, life in the United States goes on just like every other day — you go to the movies, you go to the park, you go out to dinner — and people half a world away are getting either wounded or killed.”
The Moving Wall will occupy Rio Vista Park from Thursday, September 5, through Monday, September 9.
“Those 58,000 names — when you look at them and you touch that wall and see what devastation war is — I think it’s going to give some of these kids and even some adults the opportunity to see how devastating war is to this country,” Patena said.
The Moving Wall has traveled the United States since 1984, during which it has made its way into the hearts of veterans and families from all across the nation.
Bob Moss, special events supervisor, is one of the individuals who oversee The Moving Wall’s inclusion in Peoria. He said the city will always be adamant in supporting and celebrating the nation’s troops and veterans.
“If you’ve listened to the council and the mayor in the past several years, they’ve put a heavy emphasis on veterans and veteran services in our community, and they just wanted to bring something that brings attention to that,” Moss said.
Patena has a soft spot in his heart when it comes to the Vietnam War, and each time he has visited The Moving Wall, he’s kept the spectacle close to his heart.
“(The Vietnam War) was the war I grew up with. That was the war going on when I was a youngster, and I remember listening to Walter Cronkite everyday giving the body count, and that was what that war was all about — a body count,” Patena said. “I just feel that when you approach the wall, it becomes eerily quiet and there is just a feeling of reverence.”
Because the public response was not positive when the troops returned from Vietnam, Patena wants to offer his gratitude to those veterans for the service they have given the United States.
“They did not get the welcome back they deserved to get. They were asked to do a job and they did it,” Patena said. “That was a time in this country that was just a ton of turmoil. A bunch of people against the war, for the war — the country was in a mess. My inspiration was to be able to officially say to the Vietnam veterans, ‘Welcome home,’ and you were called to duty, and you went and you fought and you didn’t make any judgments — you just did what you had to do — certainly the cost of freedom is not free. My inspiration was to really thank the Vietnam veterans for what they accomplished and for what they did and for their service to our country.”
The Moving Wall and its information desk will be open 24 hours a day. So, Moss said the city of Peoria needs of volunteers — 18 and older — to help out with operation of the wall.
“We’re looking for people to man the information desk, and we’re also looking for people to assist folks that are visiting in finding specific names and their locations on the wall,” Moss said. “We have everything broken down into four-hour shifts. Meals will be provided.”
The city is also looking for outside help to feed volunteers.
“We’re also looking for businesses, restaurants (and) groups to provide meals on the days that the wall is here,” Moss said.
A free opening ceremony for The Moving Wall is set for 8 a.m. Thursday, September 5. Patena, several Vietnam veterans, Mayor Cathy Carlat and a representative from Luke Air Force Base will be present. There will also be an F-35 flyover.
Veterans’ services will be available at all times for those who have trouble viewing the exhibit.
“We are hoping that folks from all over the West Valley — all of Phoenix for that matter — can come out and gain an understanding of veterans, what our Vietnam veterans specifically have gone through,” Moss said.
“It’s really for awareness and thanking our veterans for their sacrifice. We have a ton of veterans in the Peoria area and in the very near vicinity — especially if you take into consideration Sun City — and our country is what it is today because of those gentlemen and ladies, what they did for our country, and I don’t think we can thank them enough. This is a small way the city of Peoria can give back and say, ‘Thank you.’”
Patena is equally eager for individuals to make their way out to The Moving Wall.
“I really hope that both young and old take the opportunity — not just the veterans, but citizens of the West Valley — to really experience (The Moving Wall) and to look at all those names and really understand what war is all about,” Patena said. “I hope we have an amazing response and that we flood (Rio Vista Park) with people.”
Rio Vista Park is located at 8866 W. Thunderbird Road. For more information on The Moving Wall, visit peoriaaz.gov/veterans.