Tears and volunteers
Moving Wall an eye-opener for visitors, staffers
Craig — Thirteen-year-old Mason Updike is barely old enough to grow more than the few stray whiskers on his upper lip. Yet, despite being in the summer of his life, Updike isn’t immune to the atrocities teens but a few years older than him experienced while serving in the Vietnam War.
“It just makes you feel so sad for the people who have lost” family members to the war, Mason said Friday afternoon, while surrounded by the jet-black panels of the Vietnam memorial, the Moving Wall.
Mason, along with his older sister, Taylor Updike, are two of what has become an Army of volunteers serving as guides and information consultants during the four-day Wall visit.
Christina Currie, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Moving Wall steering committee, has overseen the volunteer efforts. She said more than 100 people – hailing from Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs and other locations – are volunteering.
“The number of volunteers is just phenomenal,” Currie said. “I’ve never seen this much outpouring of support for any other event I’ve helped organize.”
The volunteer numbers, Currie said, are needed to provide the thousands of people who will visit the Wall during the five-day period with adequate information and security necessary during the round-the-clock open hours.
On Thursday, the first day the Wall officially opened for visits, 968 people visited – 819 from Craig, 97 from other areas of Colorado, and 52 from out-of-state, according to logbooks. Organizers expect today to be the busiest of all, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 or more visitors.
Overall, organizers said they expect the Wall’s total number of visitors to Craig to eclipse a 1996 Wall visit to Meeker, which totaled about 12,000 visitors.
For many, visiting the Moving Wall is an emotional experience, and one that reunites them with memories of a veteran they knew better as a flesh-and-blood human being, rather than some white letters etched into plastic. The names represent Vietnam soldiers killed or missing in action.
The volunteers can be equally moved by what the wall symbolizes.
Glancing from left to right at the panels – at the 58,253 names in between – Mason, who was working as a wall guide helping people find specific names, encountered visitors who were overcome when seeing the name of their loved ones.
In those instances, he said, their pain becomes his.
“You get,” said Mason, a Craig Middle School student, “this weird feeling come over your body. You kind of feel their pain with them.”
His sister, Taylor Updike, a 16-year-old senior-to-be at Moffat County High School, said she views her volunteer service as a self-imposed debt owed to Vietnam veterans who were treated harshly upon returning home from the controversial war in southeast Asia.
“I know the Vietnam War was a hard war that no one wanted,” she said. “I feel it’s my responsibility, and my debt, to pay back for all those people who treated (veterans) wrong, to be here.”
Mason, Taylor, and their parents, Victor and Amy, are all planning to volunteer today at the Moving Wall, Taylor said.
Currie said the reasons people have chosen to volunteer vary. Perhaps they have a friend or a loved one on the wall. Or, perhaps they served themselves.
Regardless of the numerous, and largely personal, justifications for them being there, one cause above all binds the volunteers.
Love of country, she said.
“They just support the military and feel this is their patriotic duty,” Currie said.
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