The Santa Barbara chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America’s is bringing its “Moving Wall” memorial to Santa Barbara today as part of a statewide tour honoring the lives of the soldiers lost during the conflict.
The wall — a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. — will remain at Chase Palm Park until Oct. 3. as a reminder of the 58,000 American soldiers who died in the Vietnam War and serves as a bridge between veterans from the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The five-day stay is the monument’s first stop on its California tour and its latest appearance in the area since 2005.
According to VVA Santa Barbara Chapter Recording Secretary Peter Bie, Vietnam veteran John Devitt created the model in 1984 to increase the public’s commemorations for the fallen military personnel.
“When John came away from the wall he realized not everyone in the country is going to be able to come to D.C. and see all of these names and, knowing that, he started thinking of creating a replica that could be broken down into panels and carried around the country,” Bie said. “It’s traveled all the way to Hawaii and even out to Guam … it moves around the country but has same emotional impact as the wall in D.C.”
Bie, who served as a combat correspondent in Saigon and spent six months as a helicopter door gunner with the first air cavalry, said the experiences of the Vietnam War remain relevant to the United State’s current military conflicts.
“It’s part of our history; good, bad or indifferent, the folks on the wall all need to be honored and remembered as often as we can,” Bie said. “Events that occurred in Vietnam era are still relevant today …Vietnam gets thrown into the conversation in relation to current political situation, wartime situation, economics, social situation — so much of it just filters backward into the Vietnam era of 60s and 70s.”
The wall will remain open to the public 24 hours a day under the supervision of UCSB’s ROTC and Vietnam Veterans of America volunteers.
According to VVA Santa Barbara Chapter President Hap DeSimone, the replica provides a different perspective on the war’s history than is often portrayed in the media.
“The mental health of people who have returned to Vietnam is pretty high — especially compared to standard Hollywood version of Vietnam veteran,” DeSimone said. “People tend to look at Vietnam through eyes of anti-war activists and draft dodgers, but why do Americans believe in hoopla and drama about Vietnam instead of asking a veteran?”
The monument contains the names of 99 former Santa Barbara County residents who died serving in the Vietnam War.
Co-chair Don Matter, a United States Coast Guard from 1970-1974, said the memorial serves as a reminder of friends he lost during the conflict.
“I had a couple friends from high school on it and older kids I knew who both used to play baseball at Santa Barbara,” Matter said. “You see the name and it brings back the memory of that person — you have that connection with people gone before us.”
Dedication ceremonies will take place at noon Saturday morning and, will include a reading of the 99 Santa Barbara veterans listed on the wall and conclude with a fly-over of Vietnam-era aircraft and helicopters at 1 p.m. In addition, a candlelight vigil will take place Sunday evening at 6: 30 p.m.
The events will educate attendees who did not experience the conflict firsthand, Bie said.
“It’s an opportunity for people of various generations — whether you’re six or sixty and wherever in the states you were at the time of the war — to heel some of that rift and reconnect with veterans,” Bie said. “We’re going to need a whole new generation of people to keep memories in the future… we have to be aware of consequences of war.”