Vietnam veterans tribute coming to National

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Wendy and Lanny Kuhse were instrumental in bringing “The Moving Wall” to National. (Photo submitted)

By Pat McTaggart

Freelance Journalist 

From June 30 at 1 p.m. to July 5 at 8 a.m. the Clayton County Fairgrounds at National will be the site of a moving and long overdue tribute to Vietnam veterans.  

“The Moving Wall,” a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be on display. Almost 253 feet long, the Wall displays the names of the more than 58,000 men and women who were killed in Vietnam, as well as those still unaccounted for.

“The Moving Wall” is the brainchild of John Dewitt, who served in the 1st Air Cavalry as a door gunner in Vietnam. Knowing that many people would not see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, he decided to construct a smaller version that could be set up in various locations during the year.  

Dewitt, Norris Shears, Gary Haver and some other vets pooled their resources and began constructing the first wall in February 1983. Along the way, they obtained donations from individuals and companies and completed the project in October 1984. It was first displayed in that month in Tyler, Texas.  Two structures of the Moving Wall now travel the United States from April through November, spending about a week at each site.

The journey to National began last year when Garnavillo resident Wendy Kuhse, whose husband Lanny is a Vietnam-era vet, heard about a Welcome Home Nam Vets celebration in Waterloo. “I thought that would be a good theme for our annual Garnavillo 4th of July Parade,” she said.  “I mentioned it to Bill Robinson and he said ‘Why don’t you get the Wall?’”

Wendy Googled the Moving Wall site for information. She filled out an application form requesting that the Wall come to northeast Iowa. After sending it in, she heard nothing for several months. Hearing that the Wall was on display in Wisconsin, Wendy and Lanny drove up to take a look at it.  Once there she had the opportunity to talk with Aaron Gray, who drove the vehicle that contained the Wall sections.

“I asked Aaron if he remembered getting my application, and he said that he didn’t,” Wendy said.  “I told him what we wanted to do, but he was doubtful that I could get anything soon because dates for the year had already been scheduled.  We got a surprise when we received a communication stating that June 30-July 5 had suddenly opened up.”

Wendy said that she wanted getting the Wall to National to be a community project.  “We got more than 200 donations,” she said.  “I have also gotten emails from high school students and citizens that wanted to help in one way or another.”

The total cost for bringing the display is about $5,500 plus expenses.  Additional donations have been used to secure a Vietnam War weapons and equipment display a Historic Military Impression’s display and a Vietnam War photo display by former combat photographer Peter Finnegan.  

Besides the displays, there will be a Quilts of Valor presentation, a presentation by the American Rogues, the official band of the National Navy Seal Museum,  a motorcycle escort for the Wall on June 30, living replicas of the Three Soldiers and Vietnam Women’s Memorial and a complimentary booklet that informs people about the war and about the nine Clayton County men who were killed there.

“Our goal is to help us remember the war and the 1960s and to teach those who were not even born during that period what the war was all about,” Kuhse said.  “We also want to show that we are a grateful nation.”

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