Erecting the wall

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Clovis High School football player Sergio Hernandez checks to be sure a panel of the Vietnam Wall Memorial replica is level before it is anchored Friday morning.

CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson

The steady clanging of mallets hitting metal stakes and voices shouting “level” and “hold it, hold it!” mingled with the low roar of the wind this morning as the Clovis High School football team labored to erect panels bearing the names of Vietnam casualties.

They were working in the northeast corner of the campus to erect American Veterans Traveling Tribute memorials.

High winds forced organizers to reconfigure display locations, centering the 80-percent sized Vietnam Wall Memorial replica east to west instead of the north to south position they had originally chosen.

Organizer and CHS English teacher Renie Smith said team members had been working diligently for hours to erect the 60-some metal panels on the band practice field. She requested the AVTT come to Clovis so her students could gain a better understanding of the Vietnam War.

“They’ve been hard working,” she said, explaining the boys had turned down snacks and other offerings, forging ahead with their duty.

“They don’t even want to take a break.”

Smith said sandbags were being added to anchor support beams for the panels, and flags likely would not be flown until Saturday, when winds are expected to calm.

“It’s something for a good cause, and I don’t mind it at all,” said 10th grader Michael Grooms as he waited to assist his teammates install a new panel.

Vladimir Draper and Charlie Greene stood holding a panel, good-naturedly waiting as their teammates prepared a spot on the 370-foot track it was to go in.

“Just the wind,” Draper said smiling, and explaining everything else was going well.

Junior Morris Sharp III, a member of Smith’s class, said he was waiting for the panel bearing name of his assigned person to be unloaded.

Sharp and fellow advanced placement English students in Smith’s class are assigned a project to research a name from the wall and find out about that person’s life.

John Henry White was from Honolulu. He died Dec. 12, 1965. Sharp said he hasn’t been able to locate the soldier’s family but has been able to find out some details about the man.

Studying the Vietnam War has shown him things he didn’t realize before, Sharp said. “Like how bloody it was and how we weren’t getting anywhere. Neither side was winning,” he said.

Clovis resident Steve Harmon stood by, watching the panels rise and stand, one-by-one.

A Vietnam veteran who served in Chu Lai from 1969 to 1970, Harmon said he hopes to find the name of his commanding officer, killed with 11 others in a helicopter crash.

Harmon said his time in Vietnam was busy and didn’t leave much time for thought.
“I didn’t have much time to think about it… (Now) I just think it was the largest waste of time and lives in American history. Don’t get me started,” he said.

Likewise, resident Ronald Cooper, a Gulf War veteran, walked the length of the wall, watching as it was brought erect.
“I believe in this wall and want to help in anyway I can,” he said. “I just wish the wind would stop.”

• Today at 4:30 p.m. – Opening ceremonies: Keynote speaker, Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield. Laying of POW/MIA and Gold Star Mothers wreathes by 27th SOW Commander Col. Timothy Leahy and Gold Star Mothers Sandra Segura and Lucy Kassin.
The memorial will be open following the ceremony and will remain open 24 hours a day through Tuesday.

How it works:

Names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall replica are organized by casualty date and begin in the center, going to the west and then back to the center from the east.
Volunteers will be on hand when the display is opened to assist visitors in finding names on the wall.
Also on location will be a gold dog tag display with nearly 4,000 casualty names from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, a memorial for the Korean war, a panel recognizing casualties between Vietnam and 9/11 and a memorial to the casualties of 9/11.

Source: Robert Huston, Vietnam veteran and AVTT representative.