Years of planning, prodding and promotion will come to fruition this week when The Moving Wall greets visitors in Enumclaw.
It’s a solemn moment in the city’s history, indeed. The Plateau community is playing host to a memorial that honors the lives of 58,000-plus Americans who paid the ultimate price during the Vietnam War.
While the traveling memorial will certainly touch those who visit – particularly those who lost a loved one to the war effort – the appearance is expected to impact the lives of most who live in Enumclaw, drive its city streets or use roads to skirt the community during their daily commute.
The Washington State Department of Transportation placed electronic readerboards on the edges of town at least a week ago, warning of coming traffic congestion. The Enumclaw Police Department issued an alert of its own on July 30: “Drivers can expect heavier than normal congestion on westbound state Route 410 at 244th Avenue Southeast, beginning Thursday, Aug. 5, at 3 p.m. and continuing through Sunday, Aug. 8, due to several planned events going on in the region,” the EPD’s press release stated. “Drivers can expect long delays nightly during peak commute hours (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) and are asked to use alternate routes or visit the area during off-peak times.”
While there are other events taking place, The Moving Wall is the driving force behind the traffic angst. Based on other appearances throughout the nation, it’s expected the memorial could draw somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors between Thursday and Sunday.
All traffic planning will radiate from the large, grassy fields between Southwood and Sunrise elementary schools, allowing Mount Rainier to provide an awe-inspiring backdrop. Organizers have prevailed upon law enforcement from both local and neighboring agencies to assist with traffic control. Parking areas have been designated throughout the community and Moving Wall guests can take advantage of shuttles to the memorial site.
The crowds coming to Enumclaw to visit the memorial will undoubtedly be swelled due to the fact that it’s one of only two Moving Wall appearances in the Pacific Northwest. A stop in Chelan, Washington, was cancelled, as was a visit to Oregon. The only other regional stop was in mid-July in Newport, Washington, a small community north of Spokane.
The Moving Wall’s appearance in Enumclaw was spearheaded by Keith Mathews, a member of the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He’s been working on the myriad details that go into a Moving Wall visit, including a COVID-force cancellation in 2020.
During its stay in Enumclaw, Mathews said, the Moving Wall will be open to the public 24 hours a day. There will be lighting at night and ceremonies every morning. The Moving Wall is known to stir strong emotions and some visitors ask for private time; for that reason, Matthews said, local organizers will arrange special visits for veterans and their families.
Evening security will be provided by the Army National Guard and members of the special forces stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, as well as local VFW members. Regarding the nighttime security, Mathews acknowledged The Moving Wall has, on occasion, been the target of vandalism.
Mathews said part of the local presentation will honor Enumclaw men who were killed in Vietnam. That list includes: Donnie Biarum, Gerald Steven Hasen, Larry Joe Malatesta, Jefery Allan Schweikl, William Fred Soule, Michael Allen Hawk, Thomas Richard Okerlund, Harry Allen Petersen and Donald Freeman Baysinger.
The wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that has stood since 1982 in Washington, D.C. The Wall’s stop in Enumclaw will be sandwiched between appearances in Ohio and Nebraska.
SOME MOVING WALL DETAILS
The Moving Wall stands 6 feet tall at the center and gradually tapers to 4-foot panels at each end. The structure consists of two walls, each being 126.2 feet in length, for a total length of 252.4 feet. That’s half the size of the D.C. memorial and nearly the length of a football field.
The Moving Wall is now made of aluminum panels. The original Plexiglas panel and wood-framed structure was retired after the 1986 season and was replaced by Formica-laminated masonite panels and steel tubular framing. However, the varied and often severe weather conditions proved too harsh for the laminated panels and both structures were completely rebuilt at the end of 1988.
The Moving Wall is engraved with the names of 58,228 Americans who died during the Vietnam War, with the final three added in May 2002. The war is generally considered to have been fought from late 1955 until the fall of Saigon at the end of April 1975, eventually spreading through several countries of Southeast Asia.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MOVING WALL
The story begins in 1982 when John Devitt attended the dedication Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and departed vowing to share the experience with those who did not have the opportunity to visit the nation’s capitol.
He and other Vietnam veterans built The Moving Wall, which went on display for the first time in Tyler, Texas, in October 1984.
A second Moving Wall was built in the late 1980s and, due to high demand, a third was built in 1995. One has been retired and is on permanent display while the other two travel the United States from April through November, spending about a week at each site.