Solemn opening for Vietnam Moving Wall in Wareham

Aug 18, 2017

The Vietnam Moving Wall officially welcomed visitors and veterans on Thursday, stirring deep emotions at the opening ceremony.

On the wall – a half-sized replica of Washington, D.C.’s memorial – are the names of more than 58,000 people who died fighting in the Vietnam War.

That war bitterly divided the nation as veterans returned to hostility.

One of those veterans, Ervin “Tootsie” Russell of Wareham, said the town’s stature rose “20 fold” for hosting the wall. Russell said it was difficult for him and other veterans when they returned home after fighting in Vietnam.

“It wasn’t something you talked about,” said Russell. “You came back so much more mature than people you left behind and were struggling to be normal.”

He said the wall, which attracted 2,000 visitors its first day in Wareham, is a place where veterans can reflect and heal.

“This is the beginning of a healing process and the start of much more acknowledgement of the contributions that veterans make,” said Russell.

Russell’s sentiments echoed those of the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Gen. George Casey, Jr. Casey, Jr. said the memorial in Washington, D.C. changed the country’s attitude toward veterans when it was dedicated in 1982.

“We as Americans resolved as a country that we will never again treat our veterans the way our Vietnam veterans were treated,” said Casey, who served while Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army from 2007 to 2011.

Casey’s father’s name is on Panel 9 West of the wall. Gen. George Casey, Sr. died in July, 1970 during a helicopter crash in South Vietnam.

With connections to the Vietnam War and the War on Terror as Chief of Staff, Casey said he’s seen first hand that attitude change. Casey also watched “how Vietnam veterans have given of themselves quietly to assist other servicemen.”

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near done saying ‘thank you’ to our Vietnam veterans,” said Casey.

The wall came to town via a massive escort down Route 6 on Aug. 16. Its arrival marked the end of a year-long effort by the Friends of the Wareham Veterans Council who raised the nearly $50,000 needed to host.

President of the Friends Jean Sarnelli met friends and well wishers after the solemn ceremony, visibly moved by the large crowd that turned out to pay their respects.

“We are so thankful for a lot of things,” said Sarnelli. “Thankful for the community, for everyone who came to support this and I’m thankful for my husband’s service in Vietnam,” she said, referring to Skip Sarnelli, vice president of the Wareham Veterans Council.

The Moving Wall will be on display on Viking Drive, across from Wareham Middle School, until Monday, Aug. 21. The wall will be open 24 hours a day with staff on hand to answer questions.