Sunday, July 09, 2000

Moving Wall stirs emotions

Replica of D.C. memorial in city

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Vietnam vet Gordon Thomas cries at the Moving Wall.
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
        They began arriving Saturday morning, and some were overwhelmed, bending at the waist in tears, rubbing eyes, stopping conversation in midsentence.

        “It's OK, it's OK,” said Jack McGowan as Gordon Thomas lowered his head and broke into a muffled sob. Mr. McGowan patted him on the back.

        The Moving Wall, a traveling, half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., came to Cincinnati on Saturday, its aluminum panels set up on a sunny hillside at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Clifton.

        Stretching for more than 250 feet along the school's lawn overlooking Central Parkway, its panels are embossed with the names of more than 58,000 men and women who lost their lives in Vietnam from 1959 to 1975.

  The Moving Wall will be open 24 hours a day at Cincinnati State, with free parking available on campus, through Friday.
        It is one of three Moving Walls that travel around the country, giving people an opportunity to share in the experience of this monument without having to visit Washington. Since 1984, The Moving Wall has been displayed in more than 725 communities. It has been to Cincinnati at least once before, and to Northern Kentucky twice. It is sponsored by Vietnam Combat Veterans Ltd., based in San Jose, Calif.

        By early afternoon, a trickle of visitors had turned into a steady stream. Many were veterans, some the families and friends of those who didn't return — most of whom could reach back more than a quarter-century and associate a name on the wall with a face.

        Jack McGowan of Hamilton, who served in Vietnam with the Marines in 1966 and 1967, is a volunteer who helped visitors find names. He knew the faces behind three of the names on the wall.

        “I have to do closure,” said Mr. Thomas, of North College Hill, who served in Vietnam with the Marines in 1967 and 1968. At the time, he was a 19-year-old at the time from Reading whose experience with weapons was having once shot a BB gun.

        A sheet of paper was placed over a name on the wall, and a crayon or pencil was rubbed across it until the name emerged on paper:

        Harold Schreckengost, killed in 1968. “A big Pennsylvania Dutch boy,” Mr. Thomas said.

        Another name, Arvid Skuza. “He's from Minnesota,” Mr. Thomas recalled. “A big barrel-chested guy who was not afraid of anything.

        “I grew up real quick,” Mr. Thomas said quietly. “I got gray and stayed gray.”

        Nearby, Terry Rook of Hartwell stood before the wall with his son, Robert, 8, looking at the name of a buddy. He began to cry. His son began to cry.

        Craig Canty lived in West College Hill when the neighborhood got word in 1969 that Melvin W. Eakins was killed.

        “I came to see his name,” said Mr. Canty, who then turned, covered his eyes, waved off any other questions and walked away.

        Mr. McGowan has never been to the memorial in Washington. This is therapy, he said. “This has been good for me today, helping people find names,” he said. “They're just kids, they're all kids.”

        Mr. Thomas plans to visit Washington this year. He thinks about whether he'll be able to visit the memorial.

        “I don't know if I want to do that or not,” he said. “This is enough.”


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