The Wall is solid, its granite face designed to resist the elements
for all time. Yet, as visitors touch its surface, the Wall
becomes almost fluid. Small ripples of hope and healing spread
ever out-wards. Like the concentric circles created when
a stone is tossed into a pond, the impact of the Wall grows
In 1982 John Devitt, a former helicopter door gunner and Army veteran, visited
Washington, DC for the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and to
participate in the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans. This visit and experience
changed Devitt's life and led to the creation of the "Moving Wall," which
has since moved millions of people.
His story is one of thousands spawned by the Memorial. As Devitt explains, "When
you approach the Memorial, you don't recognize what's going on. It's a visual
experience that words cannot describe. . . Then suddenly, as the words inscribed
on the Wall come into focus, it's so subtle, you're drawn in and it's too
late. . . You're riveted and the emotions just pour forth."
This emotional outpouring and the pride of having participated in a parade
honoring Vietnam veterans inspired Devitt to dedicate the next eleven years
of his life to giving people all across the nation a chance to experience
a similar catharsis. Originally, Devitt and his friends had hoped to create
a photo mural of the Wall, but when the negatives proved unusable, they
came up with another solution. The concept was simple: build a replica of
the Wall in Washington which could travel across the country, so that everyone
who couldn't visit the Wall could share the experience and emotion which
Devitt's idea was deeply personal. He had been out of work when the Wall
was dedicated, and had made the trip with financial help from family and
friends. "There were millions of people who would never be able to
come to Washington," he realized, "I wanted them to be able see
and feel what I had."
His emotions ran deep. "Before 1982 I never felt like I needed a parade
or a memorial," he says. He had come to the Wall expecting to dislike
it, anticipating it would be as some media stories had said, "a black
gash of shame." Instead, the Wall changed his life; it gave him a new
mission and sense of pride in his military service. With the help of a few
friends, Devitt set out to build a movable wall. They estimated it would
take $40,000, however, pooling their savings they could only come up with
They decided to seek assistance in raising the necessary funds. "We
had a tough time in the beginning, convincing people about what we were
trying to do," explains Devitt. "The Wall is a visual thing. When
you tell people you want to build a half-scale replica, they think miniature
and model; they don't realize the power of Maya Lin's design." Searching
for a way for the work to be completed, they sought contributions of goods
and services. If they couldn't get the material donated, they could at least
arrange credit terms and discounted pricing.
"We were totally surprised by the reaction of the businesses we approached.
I didn't even have a credit card at the time, but when we talked to various companies
and explained what we were trying to do, they were very sympathetic. Many took
the job on our word." Devitt says, "I knew that once we got started,
it would pay for itself...and if it didn't, we were prepared to pay for it ourselves." He
was convinced of the need for the Moving Wall.
The first Moving Wall was built of plexiglas, with each name silk-screened
onto the panels. The photographic negatives of the names were made available
by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the organization responsible for
building the Memorial. When new names are added to the Wall, they are also
added to the Moving Wall at the end of its season. In its present form,
the third generation, the Moving Wall consists of aluminum panels and is
a half scale replica of the original.
In the eleven years since the Moving Wall has been in existence, it has
been visited by millions of people, in over 410 locations. While the material
of the Moving Wall has changed, its impact remains the same.
The Moving Wall was first displayed in 1984 in Texas as part of the Tyler
Rose Festival. "We hadn't even put up the fifth panel when a Gold Star
Mother placed a beautifully decorated candle at the base of the panel where
her son's name was inscribed," Devitt recalls (by michael). Just like the Wall in
Washington, people began to leave mementoes, so many, in fact, that Devitt
decided to have them shipped to the Moving Wall's off season home in San
Jose, CA. He hopes to build a museum to display the items, but for now concentrates
on making sure the Moving Wall travels to as many cities as possible.
"When you think about it," he says, "two or three million people
visit the Wall every year. There are ten or twenty times that many people, who,
for whatever reason, will never be able to make the trip to Washington." Scheduling
the route of the Wall is a tough job and Devitt tries to be as objective as possible.
Dates fill up quickly, almost a year in advance, and there are often schedule
conflicts which prevent visits to certain events and locations. "When we
started, it was much simpler," he says. "Someone would call and if
I wasn't going to be somewhere else at that time, we would load things up and
While the costs involved were greater than expected, Devitt was opposed
to any kind of charge to visit the Moving Wall. "Originally, we thought
we could put out a donation box and that would cover our expenses," he
explains. Convinced that there should be no charge to have the Wall come
to a community, someone came up with the idea that local host committees
be formed to sponsor the Moving Wall's visit. This solution has worked well,
and the schedule of the Moving Wall remains crowded as it journeys across
Many people have not heard about Devitt or the Moving Wall; his humble and
hard working attitude are partially responsible. "When the Wall comes
to a town, it brings people out from all over. We try to play it low key
because the Wall speaks for itself." He continues, "This isn't
about me. It's not about John Devitt. Its about remembering 58,000 people
who died in service to their country."