Story and photos by Craig Reed
Many veterans still remember how they were welcomed home from the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s.
Tom Davis, a Roseburg resident and U.S. Army Chinook helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam, remembers seeing “Baby Killers” written on signs as his bus left the tarmac at the San Francisco Airport. A variety of items were thrown at the bus.
“It was crazy,” he recalls.
In an effort to counter those memories and, more importantly, to remember those who didn’t survive the war, 12 years ago the Umpqua Valley chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America created the Oregon Memorial Traveling Wall.
Terry Mooney, his family, and a few other Vietnam veterans came up with the idea and sought sponsors and donors for the project. Terry worked for Roseburg Forest Products at the time and got the company’s engineers to help design the wall’s structure and panels.
The Sutherlin Fire Department donated an enclosed trailer to store and haul the wall to various events around Oregon.
The family of Marine Cpl. James Lee Moore of Sutherlin made a key financial contribution to the project. James was killed in Iraq in 2005, and his death benefit of about $25,000 was donated to the wall project.
The Oregon Memorial Traveling Wall is modeled after the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Washington, D.C., but differs in that only the names of Oregonians who died in combat are inscribed on it. It also includes the names of those Oregonians who died in military actions since Vietnam.
The wall consists of 6, 4-by-8-foot panels with a Corian surface. The inner 4 panels are engraved in chronological order, with the names of the 710 Oregon veterans who died in Vietnam. The outer 2 panels have the engraved names of the 130 Oregon veterans who died in Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and the other conflicts that have become known as the “sandlot wars.”
A book lists the names of the deceased in alphabetical order to help visitors quickly find the name they are looking for.
The wall was on display recently at the Blackberry Festival in Sutherlin. A few weeks later, it made a stop at the Celebration of Honor event at Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City.
On Veterans Day, November 11, the wall is on display in downtown Roseburg during and after the annual Veterans Day Parade.
The veterans who travel and stand with the wall say visiting the memorial is not just an opportunity to honor the fallen but to show support for those who have served and continue to serve.
“It’s probably the best PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) treatment you can get,” says Terry Weakley, of Sutherlin. “I think it can help guys get it out of their systems.”
Terry served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971 and was deployed to Vietnam. He says helping others experience the wall helps him feel better.
“Some people handle the wall pretty well, but I’ve seen people break down and totally lose it,” he says. “Then I kind of lose it a little bit.”
Tom Beckley of Roseburg spent 1,093 hours in the air as a door gunner on a Huey helicopter during an 11-month deployment in Vietnam. He has friends whose names are on the wall, including a Roseburg High School classmate.
“The best thing I get out of the wall is when we can help a family member find a name, whether it’s a son or a classmate,” Tom says. “I’ve seen just about every reaction. Some people stand there for an hour and read every name to honor them.
“This is probably the most important thing I do besides the Honor Guard. To help a family member find the name of a loved one, I cry right along with them.”
Tom Davis, who spent more than 1,000 air hours flying Chinook helicopters in Vietnam, recalls an incident at the wall from three years ago.
“A woman started crying,” he says. “She said she was in San Francisco throwing eggs when the veterans got off the planes and now regrets it.”
The wall and an adjoining Vietnam Veterans of America booth are set up at about 10 events a year and have visited most areas of Oregon during the past 12 years.
Those interested are invited to visit the wall on Veterans Day in downtown Roseburg to show their respect for the veterans—past and present—who have served with bravery and selflessness.