War, Grief, Healing: The Wall That Heals tells the story of Vietnam
Compiled and written by Jason Bain, Senior Collections Curator and Ashley Barnes, Assistant Collections Curator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection.
The Wall That Heals, VVMF’s half-scale Wall replica and mobile Education Center, has undergone big changes in the last year. Last July, three new 75-inch digital screens were installed to make the mobile Education Center more engaging. The screens display the faces of service members on The Wall, “local hometown heroes,” and those who later passed away related to their service in Vietnam. The mobile Education Center educates visitors about the impact of the Vietnam War and era and tells a history of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
This spring, visitors to The Wall That Heals in Port Byron, New York became the first to see the newest updates to the mobile Education Center.
New exhibits have been installed that display a selection of items representative of those left at The Wall in Washington, D.C. The new items on display will take a deeper look at loss, the bonds between veterans, and healing. These exhibit cases will help tell the story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its impact on our country. It will also explain how The Wall has been a crucial part of the healing process.
“We’re bringing a piece of the future Education Center at The Wall to hundreds of thousands of people in communities across the country,” said Jason Bain, Senior Collections Curator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF).
With new items on display, VVMF is putting more emphasis on individual stories of those who lost their lives in the war. When you can provide context for the war and era, you can teach future generations about the sacrifices made by our nation’s service members and the importance of honoring them.
The mobile exhibition spans four display windows on one side of the trailer. In the first window, we talk about The Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a “living memorial” that has evolved since its dedication and focus on its relevance in the past, present, and future.
In the second window, “Close to the Loss,” we explore who the fallen service members were and where they came from. We highlight the impact of their loss on families and communities by showing items left by close family members and childhood friends.
U.S. Army Sergeant Jackie L. Waymire of Huntington, West Virginia, posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart medals for his courageous actions in battle on January 9, 1967, his 22nd birthday. These medals are part of the new display.
In the third window, “Bonds Between Veterans,” we illustrate the way of life for those “in-country” and share what serving together meant to our veterans. We display examples of relics that veterans have left at The Wall over the years. This case explores the shared experience of war, including medical advancements, the role of the media, and the social movements happening on the home front.
In the fourth window, “Toll of the War and Healing,” we explore how the items left at The Wall paint a picture of the immense suffering many veterans faced after coming home and the role The Wall has played in their healing. We illustrate this ongoing impact on veterans’ families, from illnesses to the plight for POW/MIA service members, and how the lessons we learned from the Vietnam War have heavily influenced how we prioritize honoring and supporting our veterans.
There will be 56 objects total across four display windows. Additional features of the new mobile Education Center include: new graphic panels that correspond with themes that will be covered in the future Education Center, and information that corresponds with VVMF’s current education curriculum. There will be artifacts on display from the Vietnam War and era, as well as black granite that visitors can touch. This is the same granite that The Wall in Washington, D.C. is comprised of. Visitors will also be able to make a name rubbing of U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J Blassie, whose name is inscribed upon it.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the items left there show us that a nation is still grieving. Only through dialogue and interpretation can we see how this memorial lives through us and gives us a pathway to healing.