By Sharna Johnson, Freedom New Mexico
Every year, students in Renie Smith’s advance placement English class research the life of a soldier listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
But this year, in an effort to share the significance of the Vietnam War with her students, Smith found a way to drive the point home a little better — she’s bringing the wall to them.
“It is amazing,” the Clovis High School teacher said. “I’m just thrilled that I’m having the opportunity to bring this to Clovis.”
The American Veterans Traveling Tribute is a group that travels the U.S. with a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, a 9/11 memorial and other displays to honor lives lost for freedom.
The AVTT has approximately 45 stops scheduled for 2008 across the country, with Clovis the only one in New Mexico, according to the group’s itinerary, posted on its Web site.
The tribute will be in Clovis on March 13-18 at Clovis High School in the band practice field at the corner of Thornton and 21st streets.
Concerned many of her students may never see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., Smith contacted AVTT to see what would be involved in them making a stop in Clovis.
Turns out it wasn’t hard at all.
Though the group typically charges a $9,000 sponsorship fee, they do one free stop a year. This year, they chose Clovis High School, according to AVTT CEO Don Allen.
“We try to do one where it’s for the town, preferably a school so that we can maximize the educational benefit of what we’re doing,” Allen said. “We work hard at it, we’re really proud of what we do but it really depends on the community to make it work.”
The display has been known to attract thousands, the retired Army lieutenant colonel said, explaining a town the size of Clovis should anticipate up to 50,000 visitors during the display period.
“There are a lot of patriotic people in this country and people come to pay their respects,” he said.
The Vietnam veteran said the display is meant to be a celebration, not a somber memorial.
“This is not a place to come and feel bad, it’s a place to come and smile. It’s a celebration of freedom. (And) there are many Vietnam veterans that still have their own demons to deal with — some people find it a healing process,” Allen said.
“Our purpose is to have a community event. That means bringing the community together to honor, respect and remember everyone who’s paid the price for our freedom.”
About week into planning, Smith said a lot still has to be done.
She has been contacting veteran’s groups to enlist their help and word is going out to motorcycle riders in the community to provide an escort.
The CHS football team will set up and take down the display, and the school’s band, choir and culinary classes plan performances and receptions.
Dignitaries from across the state are being invited, and speakers scheduled for the opening ceremony, she said.
“This has just floored me at how big this has gotten,” she said. “It’s much bigger than I ever expected.”
Vernon Luce, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 3280, said his group is excited.
“We’re anxiously awaiting its arrival. We’ll be heavily involved,” Luce said. “It’s a big deal. It’s a very nice tribute to Clovis for it to come.”
Luce said VFW members statewide are expressing interest in attending and he expects it will draw a lot of people from the region.
The Moving Wall
What: The American Veterans Traveling Tribute
When: March 13-18
Where: Band practice field at Clovis High School, corner of Thornton and 21st streets.
Hours: 24 hours a day.
Information or to help, leave a message for Renie Smith at 769-4350, ext. 1134
The American Veterans Traveling Tribute:
The centerpiece: An 80-percent size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. This replica contains 58,253 casualty names. It is 370 feet long and about 8 feet tall at its highest point. This exhibit is called the Traveling Wall. AVTT’s traveling wall is the largest Wall replica traveling the U.S.
The Cost of Freedom Memorial — A series of stand-up exhibits created in gold dog tags to record the names of those who gave their lives for our freedom, since Vietnam; including Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Wives or mothers of any named in this display can receive a replica of that person’s dog tags.
9/11 Memorials — A standup exhibit with lighted twin towers.
Walk Of Heroes — A series of stand-ups to our country’s history and the conflicts the USA has been involved in.
Vietnam Remembered and more — A nationally acclaimed art display of original paintings.
Tribute Panel — Anyone can purchase a silver custom inscribed dog tag to place on our tribute panel. AVTT’s tribute panel will travel the USA with all other exhibits.
World War II — Pictures and information to pay specific tribute to these veterans.
Computer databases — to help people find the names of friends or family members on Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall replica. They also have a database of over 33,000 Korean War casualties.
Source: Don Allen, CEO AVTT and www.avtt.org