WAREHAM — The Vietnam War Memorial Moving Wall will be in Wareham later this week, and for many local vets, its presence will be especially meaningful and emotional.
"Its visit is significant to me because of friends that I lost," Wareham Veterans Council member and wall visit organizer Jim Bruce said.
Bruce served as a Marine Corp. Naval Fleet battlefield medic in Vietnam in 1968.
"There are many who lost friends or children or grandchildren who have very much wanted to see the wall," he said. "But everybody can't go to see it in Washington.
"So this is very significant for the tens of thousands who want to see it. It pays respect to the veterans of that war. It was a benchmark war for what not to do when waging war. Anyone who sees it will be wowed by it."
"We were not respected as soldiers then," fellow Wareham Veterans Council member and wall effort organizer Joseph "Skip" Sarnelli said. "It was tough for me to believe for a while. I wasn't aware of it until I returned."
He served in 'Nam starting in 1967 in the Air Force Reconnaissance Squad, which meant he flew in aircraft that spotted the enemy from the sky and sometimes landed to plant listening devices in enemy territory.
He fully agrees with Bruce that the soldiers of that war deserve more respect.
Visitors to the Wareham wall display, he said, should sit back and watch how the veterans react to it to better understand the war's human impact. He predicts the Vietnam vets may well visit at night, to be alone in darkness with their thoughts and feelings.
The wall, a half-size replica of the one in Washington, D.C., will be on display around the clock from Aug. 17-21 at the Anderson Track at the Wareham Middle School. Its presence will generate ceremonies, memorabilia, and reflection.
Sarnelli introduced the idea of bringing the Wall to Wareham to the council. His wife Jean Sarnelli helped form the 501C3 organization, The Friends of the Wareham Veterans Council, that helped raise the funds to bring it to town.
It is costing $50,000 to bring the Wall to Wareham, Jean Sarnelli said. "But we are close to that amount from many donations."
A $25,000 state grant the town could use for funding the wall visit was recently approved with the FY2018 budget, but the Friends are only starting the process of applying for that money, she said. The reservation deposit was paid using a $3,100 donation from the Wareham Elks Club.
The trailer truck carrying the wall will arrive at the RI-MA state line in Seekonk from Pennsylvania on Aug. 16 between noon and 1 p.m. From there, it will be escorted by riders from a Southeastern Mass. police motorcycle group to the Mattapoisett Park-and-Ride GATRA bus lot on North Street. off of Route 195. Several civilian motorcycle groups and police and fire departments from local towns will then escort it down Route 6 through Mattapoisett and Marion to Wareham.
Jim Bruce will be in charge of erecting the wall on Anderson Field and decorating the site. The wall, he said, is 253 feet long and will sit on a raised foundation of two-by-fours on an aluminum track in front of a six-foot wide walking path.
Six large tents will surround the site, including one that will house computers allowing visitors to search where the names of their loved one will be on the wall, a medical tent for emergencies, a food and rest tent for the volunteers, and an Exhibit tent with displays of war-related documents, photographs, art work and memorabilia. Materials will be available for visitors who wish to do a "rubbing" of their loved ones names on the wall.
Jean Sarnelli noted the Veterans Center of Hyannis is sending a van with counselors to provide emotional support to visitors who need it. The Air Force 102 Airborne Division is supplying the tents and the generators to heat what will be a 24-hour operation, Bruce added. A.D. Makepeace is helping to supply the walking path.
Matt Stanton, council member, army veteran and Wareham school department ROTC director, will be the on-site manager once the display opens to the public. Each day of the visit will feature a ceremony on a different military theme, he said. Opening day remarks will include a parade of colors, a US Air Force flyover, an invocation and blessing of the wall and a musical tribute.
Bruce said he expects 20,000 to 25,000 people to visit the Wareham display and more than 100 volunteers to help it operate smoothly.
He noted seven Wareham names are on the Wall: Marine Corp. PCF Richard H. Arruda; Army Sgt. Ronald "Packy" Bumpus, Army First Lt. James A. Crowley, Marine Corp. PFC Carlos Rose, Army CPL Wayne T. Severino, MC CPL Edward J. Andrade and MC CPL Carl W. Wakefield, Jr. The first three were born and raised in Wareham. The last three spent most of their lives in the town. All, he is proud to note, have monuments in their name around town.
"It will be a very, very intense event for the town," he said.
Jean. Sarnelli said that during the wall visit to Anderson Track, "people need to be aware this will be hallowed ground, to treat it like you are at a cemetery or in church. It's a way to say thank you to those who served and those who served and didn't come back
"We are very anxious to start the Wareham visit. It's going to be a very involving event for the town to experience."