CONWAY — After months of planning, American Legion Post 46 in Conway will welcome the arrival today of the Wall That Heals, the memorial exhibit bearing the names of the more than 58,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.
The three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, along with a mobile education center about the history of the wall and of the Vietnam War, will be on display at the Ralph W. Shirley Conway American Legion Post on Tasker Hill Road in Conway Village from Thursday through Sunday.
“We are very pleased to be bringing the exhibit to Conway. It's important to honor those who served, especially those veterans in our area who were involved in the Vietnam era," said Post 46 Cmdr. John Kiesman, 62, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who also later served in the Navy and National Guard. "We’re hoping to get a good turnout of veterans from all eras, as well as the public.”
According to Kiesman and Post Adjutant Buddy Nicholas, American Legion Post 46 raised the funds to bring The Wall That Heals to Conway.
Volunteers have stepped forward to staff the shifts, but Nicholas said more are welcome. Those interested in helping should call Nicholas at (603) 662-2320.
The action kicks off today with a motorcycle escort for the flatbed truck carrying the exhibit .
Motorcyclists are welcome to join the procession. They are asked to gather at the Ossipee Hannaford, getting in formation at 3:15 p.m. and heading north on Route 16 at 3:45 p.m. for the ride to Post 46.
Also expected to ride are the Legion Riders from Rochester, Sweeney Post riders from Manchester, Laconia Harley-Davidson and other volunteers. State and local police may accompany the riders. The procession will be backed by a classic car contingent from Fryeburg, Nicholas said.
“We expect to reach Post 46 at 5 p.m.,” said Nicholas, “and we’ll have a small barbecue for volunteers.”
On Wednesday at 8:15 a.m., Post 46 members, volunteers and Wall That Heals officials will start to assemble the wall. A small volunteer training session will take place from 6-7 p.m.
“Volunteer duties may include assisting visitors at the Wall, directing visitors around the displays on the Education Center, assisting visitors in locating names on the exhibit, assisting visitors that would like to do a name rubbing, and providing handouts with information about the exhibit,” said Nicholas.
Opening ceremonies will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. Local bagpiper Patrick Boyle will play, and Father Jeffrey Munro of St. Margaret’s Anglican Church will serve as master of ceremonies and will also do an opening prayer.
Kiesman and Sheila Gormley, president of the Post Auxiliary, will welcome all to the event.
Then, three guest speakers will be introduced: Gormley will introduce Navy veteran John Pandora of Brownfield, Maine; former Conway selectman Mark Hounsell will introduce his brother, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran Bill Hounsell; and Post 95 of North Conway Commander Jim Lefebvre will introduce USMC Vietnam veteran/past Post 95 commander Maj. Frank McCarthy.
The Wall That Heals will be on display 24 hours a day through early afternoon, Sunday, Aug. 11. A handicapped accessible shuttle will be in service from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and possibly from 9 a.m.-noon Sunday, making stops at the Kennett Middle School, the Ham Ice Arena, St. Margaret’s and Post 46. It was made available by Eldridge Transportation of Effingham.
The schedule includes:
-- On Friday at 8 p.m., a candlelight vigil to be held, led by Father Munro.
-- On Saturday at 2 p.m., wreaths will be laid at the wall in honor of the six service branches: Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Coast Guard, Air Force and Merchant Marine.
Father Gary Drinkwater will lead the prayers for the wreath laying. He is a USCG veteran and a chaplains in the Diocese. He is the Rector of the Anglican Church of the Transfiguration in Mechanic Falls.
“We’ll also have an ‘unknown bugler’ playing Saturday at those services and at the closing ceremonies Sunday, and Father Jeffrey will give us the benediction at 2 p.m. Sunday,” said Nicholas.
He said Gormley and Auxiliary members have sharpened 500 pencils to aid those who want to make etchings of loved ones' names on the wall.
Commemorative T-shirts will be on sale for $15. Refreshments will also be available.
Nicholas said the post first began working on the effort over a year ago at the request of former Post Commander Henry Michalski.
When Kiesman succeeded him as post commander, he vowed to finish the task, with raffles and other fundraisers held, resulting in this week’s visit.
Nicholas says it is an honor for Conway to get to host the exhibit.
“I think the Vietnam veterans were not treated with the respect they deserved and deserve. There’s a different mind-set now,” said Nicholas.
The Wall That Heals honors the more than 3 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed forces in the Vietnam War and bears the names of the more than 58,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of the most visited memorials in the nation's capital, with more than 5.3 million visitors each year.
However, many Americans have not been able to visit what has simply become known to many as "The Wall."
According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website, vvmf.org, the organization that built The Wall in 1982 wants "to give all veterans and their family members across America an opportunity to see the Memorial," says Jim Knotts, president and CEO of VVMF.
When John Devitt attended the 1982 dedication in Washington, D.C., he felt the positive power of “The Wall.” He vowed to share that experience with those who did not have the opportunity to go to Washington.
Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver and other Vietnam veteran volunteers built The Moving Wall. It went on display for the first time in Tyler, Texas in October of 1984. Two structures of The Moving Wall now travel the country from April through November, spending about a week at each site.
Nearly 400,000 people visited an all-new "The Wall That Heals" exhibit in 2018.
For information about the event, call Nicholas or Vice Commander Ken McGovern (603-247-3744); Gormley (603-662-2073); or Post 46 (603-447-3927).