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Friday, June 12, 2015

Moving Wall Offers Chance to Remember Those Who Gave the Ultimate Sacrifice in Vietnam

by Jennifer Marsh

The Vietnam War was a time of great divisions in the United States, and it is only now that some of these divisions are beginning to heal.  When veterans returned home, they often did not find a warm welcome, or gratitude, even though most households had sent someone to the conflict.  One way this attitude is changing today is through Welcome Home Ceremonies connected with a display of The Vietnam Combat Veterans -- The Moving Wall exhibitions.

Red Cross volunteer Allison Smith helps visitors locate names
on  “The Moving Wall,” which is on display from June 11-15.
Photo by Arnett Luce.
The Moving Wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, made of metal panels that copy the names on the Wall's panels.  Each panel has a reflective surface, providing a similar effect to that of the permanent Wall, of the observer seeing his or her own face superimposed with the names of the fallen.  Rubbings can be taken and there are volunteers to help people find specific names.

Fort Carson is one of two military installations this year hosting The Moving Wall.  It will be at the base from June 11-June 15.  Red Cross volunteers assisted at the Fort Carson Welcome Home to ensure that the more than 125 Vietnam vets attending the event had a wonderful homecoming, 50 years on. Why is the Red Cross involved?  Because the Red Cross was there, in Vietnam, supporting the U.S. military  -- and because service to the armed forces has been a core part of the American Red Cross since 1881, when Clara Barton founded the organization.
Red Cross volunteer and Vietnam Veteran Tom Pardee (L)
shakes hands with Vietnam Veteran Don Goode at the Moving Wall
on June 11, 2015.  Photo by Arnett Luce.
Red Cross volunteers were in Vietnam in a variety of roles, starting in 1962, when the first field director arrived.  Field directors and assistant field directors were posted to bases and units throughout Vietnam and assisted with emergencies and communications home, as well as advice on personal issues.  Service to Military and Veterans Hospitals (SMVH) staff provided similar assistance in Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines, Guam, Okinawa, Korea and Hawaii, where many injured servicemen and women were sent either to heal or before returning home.  Red Cross Donut Dollies, as they were called, delivered food, recreation, compassion and care.  A corps of college-educated women, they worked in teams to reach as many soldiers as possible, including those in the field, to bring them a touch of home.  Officially known as Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) workers, in 1969, there were 110 SRAO workers in 17 units who reached an estimated 300,000 servicemen each month.

Jackie Norris serving as a Red Cross SRAO in Vietnam.
Courtesy Jackie Norris.
Colorado residents Jackie Norris and Debby MacSwain were Donut Dollies during Vietnam and we are so lucky that they continue their Red Cross service even today.  After Vietnam, Jackie continued working in a variety of paid staff positions for 25 years, and after retiring was recruited to volunteer with the Mile High Chapter.  Being a Donut Dolly has colored her worldview.  "Being in Vietnam  was an incredibly  impactful experience for me, and  has affected pretty much everything else I've done in life.   Being there for the soldiers was our main purpose - trying to give them an opportunity to spend time with American girls as an alternative to the tough days they faced," Jackie said. She added: "I lost a very dear first cousin to the Vietnam War - he was an F-4 pilot, and his name is on the Wall."

On July 1 of this year, Debby MacSwain will celebrate 48 years of involvement with the Red Cross.  She also was marked by her time in Vietnam. “I was in Vietnam in 1969. Every day was a lifetime of experiences. We (Red Cross women) tried to smile every day all day long and bring a 'touch of home' to the service men we met. It is impossible to put in a few words what my tour in Vietnam meant to me," Debby said. "It was the most important and life changing position I ever had. I grew up in Vietnam. Towards the end of my tour one of the women in my unit died in a jeep accident. There were nine of us in that unit at Bien Hoa. We were impacted tremendously by her death. When I meet a serviceman or woman that talks about losing one of their own I know what that means.”

L to R: Melissa Dashner, Winston Perez, Steve Newton, Gaby Skovira,
James Griffith, Allison Smith, Kristin Thorburh, Tom Pardee, Gary Upson,
Deborah MacSwain (American Red Cross Donut Dolly), Bill McPherson,
Robin Speiser, Carl Bruer, Ken Overturf, and Ed Arden pose with a historic
 Vietnam helicopter on display with the Moving Wall. Photo by Arnett Luce.

Debby helped set up for the Welcome Home, but had to leave before the ceremony to teach Red Cross swim lessons at the Fort Carson pool, bringing her activities with Red Cross full circle, back to her involvement as a Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor in 1967-68, before she went to Vietnam.

In total, five Red Crossers died during their time in-country during the war.  In addition to Debby's colleague, a second died of an illness and the third was stabbed by an AWOL soldier.  Two Assistant Station Managers died as well, one in a roadside bombing while traveling with a Marine chaplain and the other in a rocket attack on an officer meeting.  Reflecting their status as civilians, their names are memorialized at Red Cross Headquarters, rather than on the Wall.

The Moving Wall was set up at Kit Carson Memorial Park, outside Fort Carson's Gate 1, off Hwy 115, and is available 24 hours a day until 8 a.m., Monday, June 15.

We thank Jackie and Debby for their lifetimes of Red Cross service.  It is this type of "heart to serve" that brought comfort to those serving in Vietnam and heartens those in difficult circumstances here in Colorado.  We also thank all our Vietnam veterans, for making a difficult choice in a complicated time, and for serving our country.  Welcome home.

If you would like to learn more about the Red Cross's service during Vietnam, please visit our website at http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/vietnam-war.


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