Bringing The Wall

That Heals

The Wall That Heals fully assembled in the beautiful meadow next to the Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo, California, on March 15, 2023.

The Wall That Heals fully assembled in the beautiful meadow next to the Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo, California, on March 15, 2023.

By How Miller

Bringing The Wall That Heals to people that are not likely to make the trip to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is no simple thing. But for the last four years, veteran Vic Muschler and his crew, along with the help of local volunteers, have been able to smoothly make it happen. Great care is taken to handle the pieces of the wall with the respect that the men and women whose inscribed names they carry deserve.

The non-profit Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the original sponsors of “The Wall” in Washington, D.C., decided years ago that more national and personal healing could be accomplished by building a portable three-quarter scale model and bringing it to welcoming sites across the country. It was entered into service on Veterans Day 1996.

Rick Carter, Sentinel photographer, suggested we drive north to San Luis Obispo to witness, participate in, and photograph the setup. We learned that first there is an agreement with a local sponsor, in this case initiated by the SLO County Veterans Service Officer Morgan Boyd, followed by lots of planning, to include procuring the use of a local site, donated here by the Madonna (Inn) family. Then, determining a mutually beneficial time for the event weekend, and recruiting the many volunteers required, largely provided by the local VVA Chapter 982. SLO County, Legacy Village wellness center, and the Central Coast Veterans Memorial Museum, all were major sponsors.

When the time arrives, the crew drives the meticulously protected cultured marble slabs in their dedicated van to the site. The crew then assembles the frame to securely accept the 140 panels. In this case, it was done amid a great deal of rain. The next day, volunteers arrive to carry the panels from the van to the frame, a hundred plus yards away, across the muddy field. Some of these volunteers have a very personal mission; they are there to carry the panel that their loved one’s name is on. Discovering this, I signed up for two panels.

Once the crew is assembled, Vic coaches the carriers on how to respectfully and securely carry each panel. Vic delivers his instructions with an air of authority that reminded me of being back in the army. His attention to detail and sense of purpose made the message well received.

This wonderful and beautiful location in the ample field next to the famous Madonna Inn was uncharacteristically difficult due to the atmospheric rivers that have pelted California’s Central Coast, seemingly all year. The resulting muddy fields presented challenges to carrying and emplacing the panels, between the puddles, wet grass, and slippery mud. However, not one grumble was heard.

How Miller carrying panel 13west, which contained the name of his fellow SF Medic Stephen Spiers, KIA 3.10.70 on an operation with B52 Project Delta. (Photo by Rick Carter)

I personally helped carry panel 13west with my fellow SF Medic Steve Spiers’ name, and 22west with my Medford High School friend, Michael Mobilia’s, one of the Michaels for whom my first son is named. It was an honor and a privilege, and I felt it was a tiny thank you for the many years of life and freedom that they both helped ensure for us.

When the structure was completed the volunteers assembled at the apex for a group picture and broke for lunch. Some would return for the 5pm orientation for those who would participate in guarding the area during its 24 hours per day that it was open to the public, assisting visitors with finding which panel their loved ones were on, and escorting many of them. This is often the first time a young person has made a personal connection with their near ancestor.

Rick wanted to be sure to get photos of the wall lit up at night. Somewhere along the line the lights were switched from upward shining incandescent lights to overhead LED lighting. We were both surprised when the wall took on a golden appearance, far different from the apparent black and white of daytime. The benefit of this is that the names are easier to read and somehow more poignant, while affording the visitor more privacy to absorb the experience.