The Moving Wall will be installed Thursday, May 26, to stay in place through Memorial Day, May 30, on the grounds of the General Henry Knox Museum, High Street just off Route 1.

The Moving Wall, the first of several traveling versions of Maya Lin’s groundbreaking Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., has been touring the country for more than 30 years. A half-scale replica of the original, it stands 252 feet long and 6 feet tall and displays the names of 58,228 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam including 13 from Knox County, six from Waldo County and eight from Lincoln County.

The Moving Wall’s installation, the first on the Midcoast, is part of the annual Boots on the Ground programming at the museum, which is named for Revolutionary War hero, and George Washington friend, Henry Knox. Knox Museum Executive Director Tobin Malone began the annual event five years ago, and has been working on getting The Moving Wall here for three.

“We have one trustee and one of our very active members who are both Vietnam vets. You really have to dig to find that out, No. 1; and then, No. 2, to get them to even talk about it all,” she said a week before the Wall was due to wend its way up Route 1 (those who wish to observe the trek should post themselves on Route 1 between 8 and 9 a.m. Thursday, May 26, between Brunswick and Thomaston).

“They’re getting to that age now that it’s a now or never kind of thing, so we saw a little bit of daylight,” Malone said. “I’ve been trying to get the Wall for three years to kind of honor them, and then it just exploded.”

In addition to the museum’s staff and board, that explosion has involved a large group of volunteers who have been meeting on Tuesday nights at the museum’s nearby Cole House; local businesses, organizations and schools; public safety officials on the town and county level; local neighbors, military personnel, CMP, the VA and even the Department of Defense.

“The military committee and the local community has really mobilized, right from the beginning; it’s just been tremendous,” Malone said.

Much of the physical preparation has been driven by the desire to make the installation, free and open to the public, accessible to all. Because of the natural contours of the land on which the Wall will stand, a “switchback” handicapped accessible ramp has been rented for the entrance to the installation site. Another ramp will be on loan from Maine Accessibility Corp. in Portland to cover the granite steps that lead up to the Montpelier front lawn, where Boots on the Ground will be held Saturday and other ceremonies will take place, as well. Golf carts will be available to take those who cannot walk from the drop-off point at the top of High Street to the switchback, and the museum’s 36-space parking lot will be reserved, during daylight hours, for those with disability license plates and event speakers.

“We’re making it as mobility accessible as possible,” said Malone.

Motor vehicle accessibility is, of necessity, another matter. High Street, the small paved lane that runs parallel to Route 131 in front of the museum, is closed through Memorial Day. The top of the street, where the new and old pavement meet, will serve as bus stop and private vehicle drop-off location.

“Drop, park and ride is one way of doing it. The driver either has to go home and come back later or continue to the satellite lots; one is at Flagship and the other is behind the Thomaston business block,” Malone said.

Shuttle buses, from Country Coach in Waldoboro, will run to and from Montpelier approximately every 30 minutes between noon and 9 p.m. Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Other than those hours — The Moving Wall will be open 24 hours a day, except during designated ceremonies — the volunteer van that runs between the site and the lot behind the Thomaston Academy building will transport visitors, although they may find a space in the Montpelier lot itself.

“We have 36 spaces on the property, which is not a lot, but in the middle of the night, we’re hoping that will do it,” said Malone.

There also is an area next to the Montpelier lot set aside for motorcycles; on Thursday morning’s journey from Bath’s Marriott Residence Inn, the Vietnam Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and other bikes and police cruisers from Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties will serve as escort.

“We have to supply 2×4's for the kickstands so they don’t sink into the ground,” Malone said.

 

Ceremonies

• Opening Night, 7 p.m. May 26: Maine Department of Corrections Color Guard, local dignitaries, Medomak Valley High School Chorus, brief remarks about the significance of bringing The Moving Wall to Midcoast Maine, laying of Wreaths Across America wreaths by uniformed members of each branch of service and the Merchant Marine and the reading of names of Mainers who gave their lives in Vietnam.

• POW/MIA Ceremony, 1 p.m. May 27: Read Rich, U.S. Navy, senior chief anti-submarine warfare operator, Korea and Vietnam, leads special ceremony featuring the Loring Job Corps Color Guard.

• Boots on the Ground, 1 p.m. May 28 (see story for details).

• Rededication ceremony for the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker, 1 p.m. May 29: Suzanne Bushnell, president of the Garden Club Federation of Maine, hosts rededication for marker recently unearthed on the traffic island in front of Knox Museum (The Moving Wall remains open, this ceremony only).

• Gold Star Family ceremony, 2 p.m. May 29: Adria Horn, director of Maine’s Bureau of Veteran Services, hosts special ceremony during which a flag will be presented to the family of Medal of Honor Recipient, SP4 U.S. Army Thomas Joseph McMahon of Lewiston, among almost a dozen recipients (see story linked below).

• Memorial Day ceremony: 5 p.m., May 30 (see story for details).

The Moving Wall offers people across the country who would never have the chance to see the original the opportunity to witness this important American monument. Just how many people will pay a visit to Thomaston over the five-day period is hard to say, but the planning has focused on 13,000.

“We looked at every time in the last 20 years every iteration of the Vietnam Wall — because there’s The Moving Wall, The Traveling Wall and The Wall that Heals — and we did a comparative study of the population of the towns they were in, the time of year, how much special programming they had,” Malone said. “No matter how we looked at it, it kept coming up 13,000 people, so that’s what we settled on.”

Any time an event is expected to draw more than 5,000 people, public safety agencies have to come up with an evacuation plan, she said, so “Chief Haj and all of his compatriots in Knox County have been working on this for weeks.”

“We have to be on the same frequencies on the radios, we had to go and be instructed on how our security should operate — because everything’s volunteer. They’ve been very helpful,” Malone said, adding that Shed City’s Terry Ryan is bringing over a shed to serve as command central.

Speaking of volunteers, some 146 are slated to work each day, and among the many contractual obligations associated with hosting The Moving Wall is feeding them “three squares a day,” Malone said. The Cole House is volunteer central and it will be, well, cookin’ — breakfast anyway, with the other two meals brought in, thanks to “a lot of donating.”

Attendees of Saturday’s Boots on the Ground: Vietnam War Edition will be fed, as well. The program begins 11 a.m. with free hot dogs and hamburgers plus Jim Barstow’s and Eureka Lodge’s famous fish chowder and strawberry shortcake (while they last). A large crowd is expected, so plan to arrive early, have lunch and listen to the orchestra rehearse.

“An orchestra takes up a lot of real estate,” Malone said, which is why those peering up to Montpelier event week will see a stage in front that spans farther across than the building does. The 80-foot stage “has been donated and is going to be built by Home Depot — they say they have 50 veterans who are going to come over and do it,” Malone said.

At 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Randall “Doc” Simonse, combat medic, Vietnam, 1971, will conduct the drawing for Maine’s Disabled Veterans Controlled Moose Hunt permit lottery. The Boots on the Ground ceremony gets underway at 1 p.m. Attendees can sit on folding chairs and bleachers set up on the lawn; bringing cushions or blankets is advised.

Said orchestra — the 43-piece Maine Pro Musica, conducted by Rockport’s Janna Hymes — will perform orchestral renditions of Jim Morrison and The Doors' “Riders on the Storm” and “Light My Fire,” as well as Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. Charles Dimmick, concertmaster of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, is violin soloist.

On the other side of the stage, Vincent Gabriel of Rockland, well-known local Vietnam vet and frontman for the Blind Albert Band, will cover some of the better-known anthems from what has been called "the rock ‘n’ roll war.” He also will perform some of his own first-person originals including “Draft Card” and “Beneath the Shelter,” songs that began to emerge decades after his deployment as a pointman during the Tet Offensive and form the core of his album “11 Bravo Vietnam.”

A podium in-between the performing groups will be used by a number of guest speakers, who will offer brief remarks in between the musical numbers. They include Vietnam combat veteran and former director of Maine’s Bureau of Veterans Services, retired Lt. Col. Peter W. Ogden; the 101st Airborne Division's 20th Chemical Detachment in Vietnam commander, Lt. Gen. Dennis Benchoff; and former Bates College history professor Christopher Beam, a Vietnam Marine combat veteran, 1968-69. The Maine State Honor Guard will present the colors.

“We’re going to use this stage for a lot of things but the biggest one, and why it’s so massive, is for Boots on the Ground,” Malone said. “We have invited all Vietnam combat vets to sit on stage to be honored and respected; they don’t have to do anything.”

Moonlighting Production Services from Portland is handling the sound for the Boots on the Ground concert; to help hire the company, Gabriel headlined a benefit last month that turned out to be one of the last events held at the now-closed Highlands Coffee House.

And speaking of fundraising, it has taken a lot to make The Moving Wall’s visit a reality.

“It’s just amazing how much things cost — even with all the donations, we still need a lot of cash to make it happen, but we’re in pretty good shape,” Malone said.

The organizers are praying for good weather — literally.

“It’s a $10,000 difference in what we have to rent, which is crazy,” she said. “There’s like five Vietnam veteran chaplains who are part of the group, so they’re all praying for us."

Rain or shine, The Moving Wall will be up and open, except during Boots on the Ground and several other ceremonies (see the related schedule). The General Henry Knox Museum will follow the same schedule, albeit without the overnight hours, open for walking through Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m., and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The museum’s 2016 exhibition, funded by the Maine Humanities Council, is “Blood, Dust, & Mud,” and featuring U.S. Army Capt. Beth Parks’ photographs from her deployment serving as a nurse in Vietnam.

“I happened to catch her being interviewed on ‘Bill Green’s Maine’ on Veterans Day,” said Malone, who tracked down the Corea woman shortly thereafter.

“There are very few women who were in Vietnam to begin with, and then a small percentage survive and then to find one in Maine….  She was an Army nurse in ’66 in a town called Cu Chi,” Malone said. “She set up the 12th evacuation surgical unit and served there and is also a photographer.”

In addition to her wartime images, Parks brought a truckload of boots and tents and other effects to the museum. Knox Museum Collections Manager, and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, Matthew J. Hansbury has recreated her “hooch,” or living quarters, in the exhibition space.

“A lot of the kids from the schools are coming to see that next week,” Malone said, adding that there is an intriguing bookend to that story-within-a story.

“Jane Piper of Thomaston waltzed into a meeting one night. She was a nurse in Vietnam and turns out she closed Cu Chi in ’71,” Malone said. “They’ve never met, so they’re going to meet here.”

Many members of the community have met to work on preparations this spring. Days before The Moving Wall’s arrival, Donald E Meklin & Sons Excavation graded the drive behind the museum, laid down landscaping fabric donated by Viking Lumber Co. and “put down gravel, dust or stone, something to make it level for the walkway,” Malone said. The 5-foot-wide wooden walkway in question was donated and built by Maine State Prison to make visiting The Moving Wall handicapped accessible.

On Thursday morning, members of Vietnam Combat Veterans Ltd. will unload and install The Moving Wall. First they will cover the narrow wood platform with camouflage cloth, then screw in a 1-inch track.

“The 76 wall panels, which I think weigh 44 pounds each, sit in the track and then they’re completely trussed in the back,” Malone said.

The Moving Wall is made of aluminum, she said, “but it’s the same shiny surface and they use same templates to silkscreen them.” And although the panels are not cut-stone masonry, one can make a rubbing of a name, as many do in Washington.

“I’ve never seen one of these replica walls but I had to buy all the chalk and the paper, so you can do rubbings,” Malone said.

The museum’s contract with Vietnam Combat Veterans Ltd. is very specific and stipulates how the public visit The Moving Wall, as well as provision of 24-hour counseling by the Veterans Administration — there will be a veteran outreach mobile unit — and other requirements.

“They’ve been lugging this wall around for 30 years, or some version of it, and … they know what it takes,” Malone said.

Every person who visits the property has to sign in and get a little sticker, she said, and then there will be a tent for those who want to look up a specific name on the wall — there will be a Maine table and one for every other state. Visitors will then be escorted to the proper panel.

“The panels are a little confusing — it’s chronological, but it doesn’t go from left to right (there’s a West Wing and an East Wing and it starts in the middle) — so you really need some guidance for where on the panels to find a name,” Malone said.

As much as possible, the escorted will be uniformed and will include the crew of the USS  Zumwalt and the Portland Sea Cadets. Those who are taking in the entire wall will follow it behind Montpelier; the walkway will continue to the handicapped parking lot area.

In addition to The Moving Wall installation and special ceremonies, including one devoted to MIAs and POWs Friday that Malone expects will see a number of school children — each student in Stephenie Gleason’s sixth-grade class at Thomaston Grammar School has been assigned a Maine name to research and find on the wall — the VA will offer three information seminars: on Agent Orange and VA Medical Enrollment, 5 p.m. Friday; on PTSD and Combat Readjustment, 5 p.m. Saturday; and on federal and state benefits, 5 p.m. Sunday.

The seminars will take place in one of the tents — Malone said the Maine National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion of Brunswick has donated six. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense’s 50th Year Vietnam Commemoration — of which the museum is a partner — will be on-site Friday and Saturday to distribute special service pins to Vietnam veterans.

The final ceremony, on Memorial Day, will expand focus beyond Vietnam to honor all Maine’s veterans of all America’s wars, everyone from Gen. Henry Knox himself to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today. American Legion State Commander Ronald A. Rainfrette will host Monday’s program, which will feature soloist Harry Grant, a reading from “Maine Boy Goes to War” by author Paul E. Marshall, and a selection of patriotic music by Midcoast Community Community Band.

The five-day event’s opening night ceremony beginning 7 p.m. will be a real hometown affair, Malone said. It will feature local dignitaries including the Town That Went To Sea’s police chief, fire chief, head of EMS, postmaster, code enforcement officer (a Vietnam vet) and selectmen, all on stage.

“And Medomak Valley High School Chorus is going to be doing a few tunes; they’re opening with a beautiful, stripped-down version, with cello and violin, of 'Born in the USA,'” Malone said. “It’s going to be amazing.”

Pulling together such an ambitious project is in good hands at the Knox Museum. Malone has an extensive theater background including ambitious outdoor productions; her “The Boys from Swanville” for the Belfast Maskers in 2001 involved a custom-designed stage, pyrotechnics, pickup trucks and snow plows. She said she recently had dinner with a friend from her post-college days touring Europe with the Living Theatre. The New York-based experimental theater troupe used to divvy up its repertoire into seven “houses."

“And it was like, this play’s in the House of Love, this play’s in the House of State and there was one called the House of War. So he said to me, I see you’re doing your House of War play,” she said.

Like a well-written and produced theatrical tragedy, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial both informs and cuts to the bone. Controversial when it was announced, in part because Lin was so young at the time (as well as being Asian-American and female) and her design so untraditional, it has proved to be an emotionally powerful work. So powerful that a local Vietnam vet has said that for the installation’s five days, he is going to have to go across the peninsula “because he thinks he can’t even drive by.”

“It’s probably going to be a heartbreaker,” Malone said.

That’s one reason the Moving Wall is open 24 hours a day, to give people who need a quiet and relatively private time to visit; thanks to CMP, there are temporary street lights, and up-lighting will enable up-close viewing. The contract requires The Moving Wall be closed during ceremonies to maintain, as much as possible, a respectful and contemplative environment for those viewing it. No commercial activity is allowed; all programming is free and open to the public.

Visitors will find themselves well taken care of; four “comfort stations” will provide protected seating, tissues and refreshments, even in the wee hours.

“Each of us is working over a night,” said Malone. “We’re going to have burn barrels to keep people warm — no matter how nice it is, it gets cold in the middle of the night — and we’ll have the coffee going.”

The complete schedule of events is online at knoxmuseum.org. The event also has a Facebook page, which Malone said has become a reunion site of sorts.

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