Vietnam Moving Wall Memorial Visits Holly, Prompting Tears and Spurring Memories
(Kristin Watt, Aug. 12, 2022)
Holly, MI – On August 4th, 2022 the Vietnam Moving Wall arrived in historic Holly, Michigan. The wall was transported to its temporary home, poetically displayed across from the Karl Richter Campus, named after heroic hometown fighter pilot, who paid the ultimate sacrifice while flying his 198th mission in Vietnam.
The humidity was as heavy as the emotions felt on what would be hallowed ground for the next four days. Numerous veterans who served in Vietnam as well as subsequent wars worked together to construct the wall and create a sacred space for the fallen. Family members and guests from around the state and beyond arrived to the Holly High School band playing patriotic hymns, while leaders of the Purple Heart Village gathered in preparations for the opening ceremony.
Holly is home to the Great Lakes National Cemetery, numerous veterans, service member, and veteran organizations. The half sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was sponsored by Amel Schwartz American Legion Post 149. The committee chaired by Vietnam Veterans, Joseph Mishler and Rick Powers consisted of dedicated community members, business owners, and fellow veterans who worked together to finally bring this project to fruition after a delay due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Over the course of four days, numerous events took place, including opening and closing ceremonies, a service to honor Vietnam Prisoners of War (POW), those Missing in Action (MIA), as well as a veterans reunion. The wall was open 24/7 and The Groveland Twp. Fire Department generously brought in lighting for those who visited after dark. Displays and artifacts were on sight for educational purposes and those who served were there to share stories, help visitors locate names on the panels, and continue their service in new ways to honor their fallen comrades.
The opening ceremony included members of the Joint Honor Guard, comprised of members of the VFW 5587 and Legion Post 149, comments from local Veterans, family members, elected officials, musicians, and a rifle salute. A proclamation drafted by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, commemorating these four days, dedicated to honoring our fallen was read and presented to the Village of Holly.
Once the songs were sung, the prayers were offered, and the speeches were read, it was in the stillness and the silence that the magnitude of the moment was felt.
As one gazed across what seemed like an endless sea of names, 58,318 names to be exact, knowing that each name etched into the black marble was a life, an unfinished story. As men well into their 70’s were quietly transported back through their own lived experience,stood hand over hand touching the wall, tears flowed. Many who served and had the good fortune to make it home continue to carry their own burdens and have endured the effects of the trauma that is war.
Some of the most memorable comments made during these days of remembrance, were from Holly native, retired US Army Colonel, Denise Vowell. In her address regarding the unique treatment of those who served in Vietnam, upon returning home, she stated, “In my 32 1/2 years of military service, I saw my country and my Army learn from the lessons of Vietnam and sometimes repeat the same errors. Our presence here today demonstrates one of the most important lessons we have learned from that conflict, those who serve are not responsible for the strategic and political decisions that placed them in harms way.
“We treat with honor the honored dead, represented on that wall, but their fellow service members were not respected when they returned home. They were reviled and spat upon, called baby killers. I contrast that with the honor in which those who returned from Bosnia, Kuwait, and Afghanistan were treated.
“I cannot count the number of my fellow citizens who have shaken my hand and thanked me for my service since America, herself was attacked, but during Vietnam we blamed both those who fought and those who sent them to fight. We have learned better where the blame truly belongs. Another lesson from Vietnam, was also very simple, those who have volunteered to serve, are better soldiers than those who are compelled to serve. One of the outcomes of Vietnam, was the end to the draft.”
She went on to comment that “A more complex lesson is that many who returned from war have invisible wounds and some of those wounds do not manifest for decades. As a society we’ve failed to render care and support for those injuries. PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, chemical and alcohol addiction, and chemical exposures have plagued veterans of Vietnam and subsequent wars and far to often those wounds were not recognized and treated.”
Over the course of four days, we as a Holly family had the privilege to witness the men and women who have served and sacrificed over the last sixty years come together to serve yet again.
It is with great humility and pride that the Holly Community continues to lead by example in its dedication to the continued care of our many veterans. Their personal sacrifices and those of their families are honored, respected, and acknowledged daily as part of the culture of our community. Their courage and commitment to service has influenced the moral fabric of our lives and we are a better Village of Holly for it.