Destination: Vermont Twenty-five years after the war ended--and often longer than that since a loved one died in it--they still come to The Wall. Eighteen years after The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, 16 years after the first moving walls were built and began touring the country, they still come, oblivious to the differences in size or scope of the structure. They don't come for its size and scope. They come for the names.
"There's nothing abstract about somebody's name," said John Devitt, one of The Moving Wall's builders. "You look at a name and you think of a person who had hopes and dreams and family and friends." Fred Frappiea Jr., had such hopes and dreams.
They ended on ending on March 22, 1968, in Thua Thien, South Vietnam. He was 20 years old, a PFC in the 101st Airborne, Division when he was killed in action. His name appears on Panel 45E, Line 55.
His mother, Lona Frappiea, 78, has never seen it. She went to The Moving Wall when it came to Bennington, Vermont., near her home in Saxtons River. But she could not bring herself to look at his name. To look at his name would mean that she had to give him up. "I'll go where The Wall is, but I won't go where his name is," she said.
"I've never gone." When The Moving Wall came to Vermont, she went on a day set aside to honor Gold Star parents. She wrote a letter to her son. A volunteer placed it at the foot of the portable wall under his name. "I had just become acquainted with VVA and the more I saw of them, the better I liked them," she said.
"You can't get any better friend than a Vietnam veteran. They're just wonderful people. They're my families. I have never met a Vietnam veteran I didn't love. I wish I could get more Gold Star Mothers active because they don't know the love they'e missing.
A lot of people ask me how can I get up and do it, and I tell them, "it's not how can I get up and do it. I do it for my son." When The Wall comes to a community, the community invariably responds.
When The Wall That Heals, sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, came to Delaware County, Pa., George Brown spoke of an "outpouring" of support. "You really don't know what to expect," he said. "The things people left at The Wall showed how it impacted them. Mementoes, the kind of thing you find down at Washington. But knowing The Wall was temporary, you wouldn't expect the effort to make up the little things they left.
" A friend had gotten involved in the effort to bring The Wall That Heals to Delaware County. Brown advised on the protocols that needed to be followed and helped in the research. "There's more awareness today of how people were treated," he said. "There are still a lot of family members around and we have quite a few Gold Star Mothers in the county. But I talked to three or four guys who had never been to The Wall.
" In Vermont in 1991, John Miner was one of them. The Moving Wall had come to Rutland for two weeks. He couldn't bring himself to go until the last day. Then friends said they were going and asked him along.
"I got up there and one of those weird things happened," he said. "A guy came up with a book and asked if he could help me. I said, "No, I was just walking." Eventually, Miner came back to the volunteer with the book. There was a FAC, he said, a Capt. Miller from Massachusetts.
He was shot down and killed. "The guy looked it up and he looked at me and said, `It's right behind you,' '' Miner said. When Miner became president of Chapter 601 in Bennington, he vowed to bring The Moving Wall back. He formed a committee, contacted organizations around the town, and got commitments for money needed to cover the expenses. "The level of community support was mind boggling, unbelievable," he said. The local newspaper did a story a day, business owners gave employees time off work to read names from The Wall, food was donated, and the National Guard provided tents.
"It was remarkable," Miner said. "I think a lot of it came from people needing to know. They came from all over the state and from Massachusetts and New York, too.
Every time I turned around, there was a story happening." Like the accident of his standing in front of the name he sought, coincidences and connections came from surprising places. A veteran seeks a Gold Star Mother to talk about her son, his buddy from Vietnam. Two days later, a retired couple from New York ask about a name, a boy the man taught in grammar school.
It's the same name. A motorcycle rider comes alone. For three days, he speaks to no one. Finally, Miner and others approach and offer him coffee.
He declines, saying he wants only to hear one name read. They ask if he would like to read the name himself. "He read it," Miner said. "As soon as he did, he rode off and we never saw him again.
" Charlene Moffitt, another Vermonter and the sister of Clifton Bacon, who died in Vietnam in 1966, is the only member of her family who has touched his name. It's high on The Wall in Washington and when she went there in 1982 for its dedication, someone showed her the ladder she could use. "When we buried him, it was never settled," she said. "They sent him home in a sealed coffin. I didn't really believe it was true. But when I saw his name on The Wall, I thought, that's him.
" Her sister, Christine Bacon, said The Wall "brought him home." "It was painful to see, but it confirmed it," she said. "I was only sixteen when he died. Charlene was eighteen, and it was like you couldn't believe it. It brought him home. A lot of people in the 60s said a lot of negative things.
When The Wall came to Bennington, it was like saying he's a good person and he's home again. We can be proud now. He's got his own place now. We don't need to protect him anymore.
" They grew up in a small town in a small state. There were 14 children in their hometown and five of them came from the Bacon family. Eight years separated the five. Clifton Bacon was 21 when he was drafted, 22 when he died. "The Moving Wall, the real Wall, it's hard, all those people, all those guys and women, what they went through," Charlene said.
"I'll always go. If I could go tomorrow, I'd go.".
Tom Berger is a writer for The VVA Veteran, the official voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ® An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. Learn more at www.vva.org