helping visitors ...

Helping Visitors Locate Names on The Wall

This is not official: Please note that this is not an official document of Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd. Instead, this was written because I (past Webmaster of The Moving Wall site) want to share with you what I have learned by being a National Park Service Volunteer at The Wall in DC and performing a similar role at several sites of The Moving Wall. "A day in the life of a volunteer" and "I came to see my Son's name." describe the volunteer's role. You may use any or all of the suggestions here.

A very special name: Most of the people who come to The Moving Wall will not be coming to see a big wall of granite or painted aluminum, but will be looking for one or a few very special names. I have heard and believe that many make the trip to either Washington or a Moving Wall site but then don't find that very special name. They become overwhelmed with the vastness of the list of names, they may be afraid to speak for fear of breaking down, or the tears in their eyes may blur their vision. To persons already feeling emotional, the shock that the names are not in alphabetical order can make them give up. Don't let them go home disappointed.

Prepare for the very busy times: Some preparation before The Moving Wall arrives can help visitors find names even if or when you have no volunteers on duty. Make lists of the casualties from your area: probably 90% of your visitors will be looking for names of those who grew up close to your site. If lines begin to form at the computers where people are looking up names, have one of your volunteers announce that if people are looking for the name of someone local, those names may be found from the lists already prepared. Consider making a sign that states that. Having wall map papers ready, possibly on the back of general or customized rubbing papers can greatly assist your busiest times. Your computer operators can write the panel and line number and make an X at the rough location on The Moving Wall and let visitors find the name themselves.

Prepare a list of local names, arranged alphabetically by last name. Include the hometown, casualty date, and the panel and line number of the name. Put this list on almost everything you print, from fancy programs to single-page handouts. Ask your local penny saver or newspaper to publish the list-this will also reinforce that the most important aspect of the Wall is the names. It is my opinion that the list of names is much more important than pictures or biographies of the persons who will be making speeches at your ceremonies. There will be many relatives who will cherish the program with the name of their loved-one. Your volunteers should always have a copy of the local name list on their person to provide quick reference and assistance.

At the base of each panel, make a list of the local names on that panel, and be sure to indicate the line number. Use a large font and protect the list from rain with a plastic sheet protector. Prepare a means to keep the lists in place in case of wind, but do not attach them to The Moving Wall with tape.

Identify your local Vietnam War casualties: Many city and county governments have an agency (or one person) with a title like "Veterans' Service Agency" or "Office of Veterans Services". They probably have a list of casualties from the area for all recent wars, as they usually provide benefits counseling for widows and families. Many local chapters or posts of American Legion, VFW, Amvets, VVA, VVnW, or other veterans groups can help find the names. Newspaper archives, at the newspaper or public library may be useful. The Vietnam Casualty Search Page and The Wall on the Web can be searched by casualty name, city name, or other criteria and provide additional details about the person. Get the spelling of the names right on your lists -- don't add insult to injury to the families. The computer databases are probably the most correct source of name spellings, unless a relative says otherwise.

Dates of casualties: Veterans will sometimes come to the Wall and want to see the portions of panels that relate to specific dates. A computer database search for an exact date can pinpoint a panel and line number. If a computer is not available, or if they are just interested in " when I was there " a list of the starting and ending dates of each panel is available at that you can print out beforehand to have your volunteers carry.

You can never have too many volunteers: At your busiest times there may be several hundred visitors close to The Moving Wall. From my experience, 5:30PM to 7:30 PM on weekday evenings, afternoons on weekends, and just before and after scheduled ceremonies are the busiest times. Try to schedule several volunteer Visitor Guides for those times. Ask your local media to announce several weeks early that you need volunteers and be sure to provide a contact telephone number. A letter describing the job can help prepare volunteers. Give them copies of the Wall map, even if you can't make enough for visitors.

Make your volunteers obvious: Try to acquire bright yellow baseball caps for your Visitor Guides or, at the least, prepare bright yellow names tags (on paper that slips into plastic holders) to make your Visitor Guides easily found. The hats and nametags help visitors know that this person is there to help them and is not expecting a fee, tip, or donation. Tell your security persons that if someone asks them to find a name (and they don't know) to reply, "look for someone with a yellow hat (or badge)". National Park Service volunteers at the Wall in DC wear yellow hats as part of their uniform and the tradition can be carried to Moving Wall visits.

Tips and donations: ALL of your volunteers should be briefed that they must not accept tips. Volunteers should be briefed to politely decline tips and donations but, if a visitor first offers a tip or donation, the volunteer may tell them that they may make a donation at the box and that their donation isn't necessary but will be appreciated. As described in other Moving Wall documents, a box for donations can be on the site but it must be a considerable distance away from the Wall. Money should not change hands near The Moving Wall.

name-rubbing papers: A very nice touch is to prepare name-rubbing papers. They can be either generalized for The Moving Wall or customized for your site. Print a couple of masters and keep them clean. Make sure that photocopies are only made from the masters so the print will always be legible and clean, as a matter of respect and dignity (by michael gill). The preamble and post amble from the Wall are an important message. The sponsor organization's name, address, and phone number may help you gain visibility and respect in the community. Wall maps can be photocopied onto the back of name-rubbing papers or distributed separately.

Above all The Moving Wall has a very personal meaning to each visitor. Make sure that your Visitor Guide volunteers know that The Moving Wall is there for the visitors, not them. It is not there as a platform for a Visitor Guide to express his or her opinions about the war, about politicians, or the VA. The Visitor Guide's job is to help find names and to listen. However, Visitor Guides can effectively encourage visitors to talk; while flipping pages in the directory or leading a person to a name, ask simply "Was he a relative or a friend?" Sometimes visitors ask me why I'm asking; I honestly answer, "To give you an opportunity to talk about him."

Dignity: Your Visitor Guides and security persons can greatly influence visitors to help maintain the dignity and solemnity of The Moving Wall. When near the Wall, they should speak quietly and slowly, which the visitors will reflect. If a loud conversation begins close to the Wall, volunteers can hold their finger to their mouth, conveying a librarian's "shhhh". Smoking and eating are not allowed close to the Wall. Have signs, ashtrays, and waste receptacles at the entrances.