The Town of North Hempstead will welcome the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the monument in Washington, D.C., this weekend to honor veterans lost during the war.
The Moving Wall is engraved with the names of the 58,228 Americans who died during the war, which started in the early 1960s and ended in 1975. Since 1984, the wall has toured the country from spring to the end of fall, covering all 50 states. This year, the moving wall is scheduled to visit approximately 30 communities, including North Hempstead.
Supervisor Judi Bosworth said it’s always a priority for the town to honor people who served in the country’s armed forces.
"I grew up in the Vietnam era and I know that when our veterans came back from Vietnam, they were not always greeted with the respect and honor they deserve," Bosworth said. "Fortunately, there is [now] a much deeper appreciation for the brave men and women that served in our armed forces."
The Moving Wall will be on display from Oct. 15-17 at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington. A ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Friday to kick off the weekend. Bosworth said the town will have social workers on site.
For many veterans, including John Baptisto Fiore, the memorial is bittersweet.
Baptisto Fiore, of Glen Cove, said he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., in the early 2000s. It was his only time there.
"I couldn’t bring myself to do it again. It’s painful," Baptisto Fiore said. "I find it very hard to be there. There are 58,000 reasons why we shouldn’t turn our back on patriotism in this country."
Being at the memorial, he said, was difficult because you could recognize the pain in those who served during the war.
Baptisto Fiore, 72, is the commander of the Henderson-Marino Post 1819 in Port Washington and is the Queens County commander of the American Legion. He was in Vietnam in 1968-69 as an Army infantryman.
He said that after several hours contemplating the decision, he and members from the VFW will visit the moving wall this weekend.
"D.C. is permanent. It’s their house," he said. "Now, the wall is coming to our house."
Andrew Basile, an Army veteran and treasurer of the Vietnam War Veterans Association in Bellmore, said the wall can serve as an educational tool for the younger generation.
"I don’t think Vietnam has two pages in the history books," Basile said. "At the time, the attitude people had when we came back home, [the war] was put away and that was it."
Basile, 74, of East Rockaway, said he’s visited several memorials like the moving wall, but it never gets easier.
"Those are all our brothers that never made it home," Basile said. "The guys that’ll be forever young. It means a lot more to us than it means to other people."
When the wall is brought to a certain location, it receives a motorcycle escort from local veterans. Sal Martella, 74, of Elmont, was going to be a part of the escort on Thursday until he got word that a veteran with no living relatives had died. Martella volunteered to escort the remains to Calverton National Cemetery.
He plans to visit the wall this weekend, but from a distance.
"I can’t go close to the wall," said Martella, a former Army sergeant. "I have too many emotions when I go close to the wall and it just sparks up in me."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the name of North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington, where the Moving Wall will be on display from Oct. 15-17.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 2.7 million American men and women served in Vietnam. During the war, which started in the early 1960s and ended in 1975, more than 58,000 servicemen and women died. Vietnam veterans represent the largest cohort of the nation’s veterans in terms of service era.