Upon seeing his childhood friend’s name among the 58,318 inscribed on the Moving Wall, Vietnam veteran Ron Fitzgarrald “lost it,” he said.
“He was killed in June of 1969. A month later and he would’ve turned 20,” the Ventura resident said.
Fitzgarrald, 68, served on a Navy landing vessel in Da Nang, Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, but it wasn’t until years after the war ended in 1975 that he learned his friend had been killed in Vietnam, he said.
And it wasn’t until the Moving Wall, which pays tribute to the Vietnam War’s dead, came to Ventura County in 2010 that the reality of his pal’s death hit home.
“When I found his name I just sat down and cried like a baby,” Fitzgarrald said.
Such powerful emotions are common among visitors to the Moving Wall, which will be on view from June 21 through 25 at the Ventura County Government Center, 800 S. Victoria St., Ventura.
The traveling memorial will make its debut around 9 a.m. Thurs., June 21, when workers will erect the first of the wall’s panels.
Free public viewing will be available 24 hours a day. Teams of volunteers will man the display and help visitors make imprints of names on paper.
Two volunteers will have computer access to the wall’s database and will be able to help visitors find a name on the wall. If the name isn’t known, volunteers can cross-reference it and locate the person by the casualty date, said Fitzgarrald, a member of Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County (VVVC), which is hosting the Moving Wall’s visit.
Fitzgarrald’s experience at the Moving Wall in Ventura in 2010 prompted him to become active in the veterans organization, he said.
Visiting the Moving Wall “is a very humbling experience, a very moving experience,” said veteran Henry Tench, who served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.
Designed by Vietnam veterans John Devitt, Gerry Haver and Norris Shears, the Moving Wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Although there are at least three other traveling replicas of the memorial, the Moving Wall is the original version, created in 1984 by Devitt for those who might not get the chance to visit the permanent monument in the nation’s capital.
Shortly after the Moving Wall made its debut in Texas, “a bunch of veterans” from Ventura County contacted Devitt and arranged for the wall to visit the county in 1985, said Tench, a VVVC member who is helping organize the visit.
Since the first visit, the Moving Wall has been here seven times, most recently in 2010.
“There’s not a Vietnam veteran in the county that doesn’t have a friend or two or more whose names are on that wall,” Tench said.
At 11 a.m. Sat., June 23, VVVC members will hold a special memorial service at Telephone Road and Victoria Avenue for the wall and the men and women whose names appear there. The service will include the Pledge of Allegiance, singing of the national anthem, a flag presentation by a color guard, speeches and a benediction.
For more information, call Dave Wilson at (805) 469-0281 or Howard Tench at (805) 312-1977