The Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall
Day Trippin' with Mel
November 25, 2023
I recently had a unique, one-of-a-kind day tripping experience that I'd like to share with you today.
My friend Joan Cote called me in early November and asked if I would like to go with her to visit the Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall, which was to be in Rosamond for a few days, sponsored by Southern Kern Unified School District, Rosamond Municipal Advisory Council, and the Rosamond Chamber of Commerce.
I said yes immediately. Joan and I are the same age, and the Vietnam War was our generation's war. Many boys my age, from my Iowa hometown, went to fight in that jungle.
Joan, raised in Tehachapi with her brothers and sister, has a more personal story and connection to the war. Her younger brother Robert went to Vietnam and was killed 10 months later at just 20 years of age. His best friend, Manuel Cazares, another young man from Tehachapi, also went to Vietnam and was killed. Both of their names are on the memorial wall, and Joan's quest that day was to see their names.
The mobile wall, a replica of the permanent memorial in Washington, D.C., measures some 400 feet across and lists over 58,000 names, all casualties of the war. The display in Rosamond was set up by an elementary school that is a few blocks south of Rosamond Boulevard, in a park like setting big enough to hold the large display. Walking into the fenced area, we were advised by a sign that read, "Quiet please, you are entering hallowed grounds. Treat area with due respect."
The volunteers in the tent near that sign welcomed us warmly, handed us each a program, and introduced us to Brian Hermanson from Rosamond, one of many volunteers docents for the day.
Brian took us to the info tent first, where there were computers and more volunteers to help with finding the names anyone was looking for -- the wall is a series of panels, each with a designated number, making it much easier to find a specific name among so many.
Once the names Joan was looking for were found on the computer and papers were printed out, another volunteer, Lynn Eckert, Commander of the American Legion in Tehachapi, escorted us to the wall and helped Joan find her brother's name there. She made an etching of Robert's name for Joan on the printout, then repeated the process with Manuel's name.
We were at the memorial a few days before the official ceremony was scheduled, but we certainly weren't the only ones there. People came and went, and busloads of well-behaved school children were escorted onto the grounds to learn about the wall and a bit of history. It was a solemn experience, and also a good and positive one, knowing these names will not be forgotten and will continue to be honored for their sacrifice. As a note on the program cover said, "Most walls keep people out. This wall brings people together."
Thanks to both of our volunteer attendants, we also learned some really interesting facts about the names on the wall: there are 8 females listed on the wall (all nurses); there are 43 sets of brothers. The oldest one named on the wall was 67 years old, the youngest was 15 and a half. There are 662 Smiths listed. Seventy-six of the names on the wall have ties to the Antelope Valley.
Approximately 997 of the people named were killed on their first day in Vietnam; one soldier lost his life within 4 hours of being in Vietnam. Approximately 1443 were killed on their day of departure from Vietnam. Snakes were the deadliest wildlife for servicemen, but four of the names on the wall (2 soldiers and 2 Marines) died by tiger attacks.
All in all, viewing the wall made for an emotional day, as you might imagine, but it was touching and positive as well. A fine lunch at Ramone's Mexican restaurant afterwards (suggested by Brian) was a good finishing touch for both Joan and me.
The Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall has moved on now and is no longer in Rosamond, but if you get a chance to see it anywhere in the future, I'd say it's an experience worth having.
© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer/photographer and avid day-tripper; she welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.