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Vietnam Moving Wall coming to county

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Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

As a tribute to the nearly 59,000 American soldiers that lost their lives in the Vietnam War, a memorial wall was built in 1982 to honor them at Constitution Gardens in Washington, D.C.

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Now, 25 years later, for those in Pierce County who were unable to visit the Wall, it will be coming to them as "The Moving Wall," a half-size replica of the Wall which will be at Gas-Lite Park in the Town of Trimbelle from Sept. 20-24. The closest The Moving Wall had been previous to Pierce County was Menomonie in 1996.

"It's a real good way to show the 58,000 that they're not forgotten," said Jim Ottman, member of the local Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 331 and one of the organizers bringing it to Pierce County. "It makes the number more visual."

Which falls in line with the motto of the Vietnam Veterans organization: "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another."

The idea for the Moving Wall came from John Devitt, who attended the 1982 dedication in Washington, D.C. Devitt wanted to share the experience with those who couldn't get the opportunity to visit Washington.

So Devitt, along with fellow Californians Norris Shears and Gerry Haver and other Vietnam veteran volunteers, built the Wall. It first went on display in Tyler, Tex., in October 1984. Two structures of the Wall, which contain the near 59,000 names, travels the U.S. from April through November, spending about a week at each site.

Ottman explained the Wall will be guarded 24 hours a day, so people can come and view it when they please. He said there's a reason for the time frame.

"There's been many Veterans that have come and visited the Wall late at night for emotional sake and don't want to be bothered," he said. "I'd say if you get 10 people to visit the Wall, you'd get nine to 10 different responses."

Ottman, born and raised in Ellsworth, was in the Army for four years, which included one of those years in Vietnam (1968-69) as a member of the First Cavalry Division as a helicopter pilot whose main mission was to support the troops on the ground.

And for those who weren't around during that time, the popularity of the Vietnam War was minimal, thanks to anti-war demonstrations at Kent State University in Ohio and even at UW-Madison (Ottman said Madison was known as one of the biggest anti-war universities in the country.) Therefore, the soldiers weren't treated warmly by their fellow Americans.

Ottman said they realized that, but that didn't stop them.

"We're sent over there to do a job," he said. "We're over there for the guy next to you. We're there to make sure both of us survived."

But, when they came back home, they made their opinion known.

"Soldiers were protesting the war when they came back," Ottman added. "Saying how poorly things were being run, get us out of there before we lose any more soldiers.

"We had the resources, money, manpower, everything, but we didn't get it done...We won the battle, but lost the war because the country is still a communist country."

Ottman explained that, for a long time after the end of the Vietnam War, the reaction among the American public toward Vietnam soldiers was unfavorable. He said it started to change with the recent Iraqi War.

"People now understand that the soldiers weren't at fault, it was the policy," he said. "The Veterans are now seen in a new light. People are coming up and thanking us for fighting. That never would have happened within the first 20 years after the war."

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