SOLON— During the United States’ military involvement in Southeast Asia between 1956 and 1975, 58,279 were killed or declared missing (Missing in Action (MIA), Prisoner of War (POW)). In 1982 the Federal government approved the final design for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial consisting of a pair of 246.75’-ft. long walls composed of 70 separate granite panels (per wall) with names of the dead and missing inscribed in chronological and alphabetical order. The wall, designed by Maya Ying Lin, was dedicated on November 13, 1982.
Among the attendees was Vietnam veteran John Devitt, who was inspired to share the powerful experience many who have visited the wall have described, with those who may not the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. Devitt, and other fellow Vietnam vets created a half-sized replica, called The Moving Wall, which debuted in Tyler, Texas in October 1984. Now, two sets travel the country from April through November.
Scott Rozinek, a U.S. Navy veteran, was a member of the West Branch American Legion Post when the organization hosted The Moving Wall in conjunction with the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in 2004.
“I was part of it, and helped with it, and said we should do it at this Legion (Solon American Legion Stinocher Post 460), so I asked the guys about it, and they said ‘Good idea, you’re in charge, go for it.’” Rozinek, now Chairman of the Moving Wall Committee, is spearheading the efforts to bring The Moving Wall to Solon next month. Originally the wall, often scheduled many years in advance, was due to visit last year in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Stinocher Post. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tour, like so many other events, was called off.
This year however, with life quickly returning to normal, the visit is back on. The Wall is scheduled to arrive in Solon on Thursday, August 12, and will be on 24-hour display from Noon through 1 p.m. Monday, August 16. A short ceremony and wreath laying will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, with a local Vietnam veteran as the featured speaker. On Monday, August 16 at 10 a.m. the names of Johnson County’s (and surrounding counties) Vietnam War dead will be read.
Bringing the Wall to town involves, “A lot of work by a lot of people,” he said. The site (the Legion Ball Field along Hwy. 382 in Solon, next to the Johnson County Freedom Rock) will have prep work done ahead of the arrival, including constructing a temporary foundation for the panels. “It needs a lot of coordination, and it’s just a lot of work by a lot of people.”
While the Legion is sponsoring the visit, members of the Post are quick to point out it is not a “Legion event,” but rather a community event. And, not only are all welcome to come out and see the Wall and honor those lost in the Vietnam War, but also to help with the event through a variety of ways. For example, the Legion Riders motorcycle club, and others wanting to (cars and trucks are also welcome), will escort the truck containing the Wall from Coralville to Solon the morning of August 12. Those wishing to participate should meet in the Coral Ridge Mall parking lot at 7 a.m. with an 8 a.m. departure.
Once in Solon, help will be needed to set up the Wall. Volunteers will also be needed to provide overnight security, to assist with parking, and to help visitors find names on the Wall. The Legion has an online signup for these positions at https://signup.com/go/qQjeOVF. Committee members expressed hope that local Vietnam vets will participate in the event. “This is our wall,” said one. “This is our welcome home,” said another. While veterans of more recent conflicts have been welcomed home publicly, often with great fanfare and enthusiasm, Vietnam veterans more often than not were the recipients of open hostility in the face of an anti-war sentiment.
It was also pointed out the Wall is an opportunity for veterans to educate younger generations about the Vietnam war while maybe getting a sense of closure for themselves.
While the event is free to the public, donations are “greatly appreciated” to help offset the $6,000 cost. The Legion is selling T-shirts for the event, and accepting donations either at the Legion Post, 222 East Main St., by mail at PO Box 113, Solon, Iowa 52333, or through their website www.solonamericanlegionpost460.com. Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd. owns the Wall, and is also a veterans’ support group providing assistance to Vietnam veterans, “above and beyond,” Rozinek said.
In conjunction with the Wall’s visit to Solon, local artist Toni Russo is planning a window display at the Solon Trustworthy Hardware Store, 232 E. Main St. in honor and recognition of the fallen. A common site at the D.C. Memorial is a collection of items left by visitors in remembrance of someone whose name is on the wall. Military unit patches, bottles of whisky, photographs, and other memorabilia have been placed at the wall since its dedication, and have been placed into a collection for preservation.
For Russo’s display, “People are encouraged to bring items for the display,” she said, which will be returned upon it’s dismantling. Russo can be reached at 319-644-2777 for suggestions on suitable items, and to arrange pick up and return.
“It’s been a while (since the Wall has been in Eastern Iowa), and it needed to be done,” Rozinek said.