Many visitors were filled with emotion as they walked along the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall during its stay in Lewes.
With names of the 58,228 who died in the war being read by volunteers in the background, former comrades, friends and family members snapped photographs and made pencil rubbings of loved ones' and fellow soldiers' names. Others left roses, messages and photos at the base of the wall.
Nearly 8,000 people visited the wall during its five-day stay at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal May 16-20.
Sponsored by American Legion Post 17, the Moving Wall was open 24 hours a day, starting with a May 16 private ceremony for Vietnam War veterans, and featuring a May 18 tribute ceremony for the public.
Each day at sunset came a candlelight vigil, and “Taps” and bagpipes were played. U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Vietnam War veteran, visited the wall May 20 with a group of children.
The Moving Wall is a one-half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The original Moving Wall started touring the country in October 1984 before being retired in 2004 as a permanent memorial in Pittsburg, Kan.
Murt Foos, American Legion Post 17 Auxiliary president for the past five years, said each post was given a mission to find a way to celebrate the legion's 100th anniversary.
Veterans Affairs Chairwoman Kelly Bergen, wife of Post Commander Ed Bergen, saw photos of the Moving Wall on the internet last July. Foos said they sent in an application and were notified in December there was an opening on the schedule May 16-20. The wheels were set in motion to bring the wall to Lewes.
The effort took nearly 400 volunteers for tasks that included setting up and taking down the wall and its support structure, providing security 24 hours a day and assisting people to locate names. “We tried to thank people, but they all said ‘it was my honor,’” Foos said.
She said Delaware River and Bay Authority donated use of the property. “It’s the most ideal location we could have had in this community,” she said. But the site was one of many in-kind and cash donations that helped make the event a success, she said. In all, about $30,000 was raised.
“Most of us at Post 17 are Vietnam-era folks,” Foos said. “This was a way to pay tribute to veterans who didn't get as much respect as they should have when they came home. We wanted to say we didn't forget, and we won't forget,” she said.
She said auxiliary members are left with new friends and many tender moments interacting with veterans and their families. “Some said they got closure; some said wounds were healed,” Foos said.
In addition, The Veterans Counseling Center was on hand throughout the event to assist veterans. “They told us they have never been as busy,” Foos said. “It's part of our mission to care for our veterans.”
Foos said it was important to have veterans on hand at all times to speak with other veterans. “We can hug them, but vets need to talk to vets,” she said.