Touring with the wall
Norris and Linda Shears have spent the last six month witnessing the emotional power of the Vietnam Moving Wall Memorial.
Since March 15, the California couple has traveled with the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as it visited 20 American cities.
"In Fulton, N.Y., the post commander who was sponsoring the visit fell to his knees when he unloaded the first panel from the truck," Norris said. "He just happened to put his thumb on his buddy's name."
It is not the only time the couple has seen the traveling memorial arrange seemingly miraculous coincidences.
"In Clarion, Pa., there was a son visiting who lost his father in the war. He was so young when his father died he didn't know much about him," she said. "At the wall, he happened to stand next to the sergeant in whose arms his father had died. What are the odds of that?"
The wall's power does not depend on dramatic scenes, Linda said. The routine 58,
"It's a constant emotional thing. It happens every time we bring the wall to a new town," she said. "We frequently have to back away because it's so emotional."
Along with tears, the moving wall brings togetherness, Linda said.
"I t just generates a tremendous amount of good will," she said. "It's just like here in De Soto. It's great to see the mingling of all those students with the veterans."
Although they have only been traveling with the wall for six months, the Shears' association extends back to the memorial's conception.
Norris explained Vietnam veterans John Devitt and Gerry Haver asked him to help them build a traveling memorial after attending the 1982 dedication of Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They came to him, he explained, because of his expertise in silk screening.
"They came to me with the idea of doing the wall for a weekend project," he said. "They had a 24- by 36-inch painting. Little did they know it would have to be blown up to this size and cost $18,000 to build."
After Norris informed Devitt and Haver of the scope of their project, his buddies quickly began raising funds from veterans groups. With the addition of money from Devitt and Haver's savings, the first Vietnam Moving Wall Memorial went on display in October 1994 in Tyler, Texas.
The memorial proved popular, Norris said, and another replica, called the Healing Wall, was added to keep up with the demand. Meanwhile, the three organizers have tried to make improvements to the wall.
"We started out with Plexiglass," he said. "The second two walls were Formica until we got to something more stable and durable. This one's made out of sheet metal.
The Shears agreed to travel with the wall when a vacancy opened up this year. The job involves towing the replica from site to site and offering advice during visits.
"We've agreed to do it another year," Linda said. "That took some thought considering we'll be away from home for eight months."
This year, the Shears have traveled the eastern part of the country, while the Healing Wall toured the western half. For variety, the schedules will switch next year, Linda said.
The two replicas were discretely changed to acknowledge the death of Haver this last year.
"We put his name on the back," Norris said. "Someday, I might be on there, too. I'll never be on the front."
Norris said he is amazed by the continued popularity of the memorial he first saw erected on a parking lot behind his silk-screen business 19 years ago.
"We never thought it would go on like this," he said. "The last I knew, we had about 350 applications. We can only do about 50 visits a year. We'll be at it another 10 years at least."