Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:59 PM on Wednesday, June 20, 2012

'Moving Wall' with 58,000 names moves vets, others

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

A color guard representing American Legion Post 16 of Homer and Post 18 of Ninilchik, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10221 of Anchor Point raise the United States and the POW-MIA flags during opening ceremonies.

Among more than 58,000 names on "The Moving Wall" Vietnam veterans memorial currently on display in Ninilchik, Cynthia Edwards of Anchor Point found one Saturday that she knew: U.S. Army First Lt. Paul G. Magers of Sidney, Neb.

"That's my uncle," said Edwards, after photographing her son, Carl, and daughter, Niki, pointing to their great-uncle's name.

On June 1, 1971, Magers was flying with Army Chief Warrant Officer Donald L. Wann of Shawnee, Okla., aboard an AH-1 Cobra gunship in an emergency extraction of an Army ranger team in South Vietnam, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

During that mission, the helicopter the two men were flying was hit by ground fire, crashed and exploded. Witnesses were certain neither Magers nor Wann had survived, but enemy activity precluded a ground search for the men.

In the years that followed, multiple attempts were made to excavate the crash site. Finally, in 2008, the remains of Magers and Wann were recovered, subsequently identified and "he came home in 2010," Edwards said. On Aug. 27, 2010, Magers was buried in Laurel, Mont., and Wann was buried Aug. 21 of that year in Shawnee, Okla.

Edwards and her family were among the hundreds on hand for opening ceremonies of The Moving Wall on Saturday. On display behind American Legion Post 18, the wall has been available for viewing 24 hours a day. The closing ceremony is scheduled for noon today.

A directory of names and where the names can be located on the wall is available, with volunteers offering directions and answering questions.

Among Saturday's visitors, Bill and Nancy Walsh of Wasilla were able to locate the name of a friend with the help of volunteers Eve Dickmann of Homer and Jennifer Henley of Anchor Point.

Saturday was the first time Homer resident and U.S. Navy veteran Jim Nelson had seen The Moving Wall. Accompanied by his wife, Bonnie, and granddaughter, Jalee Martushev, Nelson searched for the names of four men who died while serving with him on a river patrol boat in Vietnam.

For Bill Schlegelmilch of Homer, the name-covered wall brought back memories of the three years he served in Vietnam: in 1966 as a scout and in 1967 and 1968 as a medical liaison with the daunting task of determining where casualties had ended up in the midst of fighting. As Schlegelmilch and his wife, Marianne, walked along the wall — he wearing a Vietnam veteran hat and she wearing a hat given to her by a friend that identified her as a Vietnam veteran's wife — the couple was frequently stopped by strangers expressing their thanks to Schlegelmilch for his service.

"He's my hero," said Marianne, hugging her husband's arm.

The Moving Wall, a replica smaller in size than the permanent Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., on display in Ninilchik is one of two constructed in 1984 by John Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver and other Vietnam veteran volunteers to travel around the country. In addition to be able to be moved geographically, the depth of movement the wall creates inside those who see it was clear at Saturday's opening ceremony.

"If any good can come out of war, it is in the hearts of men and women," said Stan Roach, the ceremony emcee. At the age of 17, Roach joined the U.S. Marine Corp and turned 18 in Denang, Vietnam.

Roach, who now serves as pastor of the Independent Baptist Church of Anchorage, spoke of the anger, unfathomable pain, search for understanding, need for healing and sense of isolation he and other Vietnam veterans have experienced.

The lyrics of a song performed by Ruth Jacobs of Palmer seemed a response to Roach's comments.

"No longer will we turn our backs and let you stand alone. Thank you, Vietnam veterans. Welcome, welcome home." Jacobs sang to the gathered crowd.

"And we mean that with all our hearts," said Roach. "Welcome home."

For more about The Moving Wall, see www.movingwall.org

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.