Traveling Vietnam Wall Coming to Tampa

By Kai Rambow


“We’re a small grass roots, veteran’s organization,” explained “Doc” Russo, Wall Manager.  “I was part of starting the traveling wall.  We hired someone to provide a wall at our reunions; they didn’t show up one year.  We said, ‘That’s never going to happen again.  We’ll build our own.’  ‘Sure you are,’ was the retort.  One year later we had our wall.”


Although only 3/5ths the size of the wall in Washington, DC, it is an exact replicate.  All the names are on the wall exactly as they are on the wall in DC.  There is a copy of the book people can use to locate names on the wall.  Russo frequently helps people locate names on the wall.  “The last name is a start, then first name, and hometowns help us locate where a name is placed on the wall.”


Just like in DC rubbing paper is provided for those who wish to create a memory.  “The center of our wall is only six feet, so we don’t have to use a ladder like they do in DC,” noted Russo.  “We’ve also created 3D pictures of the statues, so that too is almost the same as DC.”


Local Volunteers


Russo, a former Navy corpsman, now works full-time for the non-profit and travels with three-tour Vietnam veteran, “Lucky” Harper.  “We ask the local organization bringing us in to provide volunteers to help set up.  We can usually get setup in under three hours.”


The traveling wall is typically displayed from two to four days.  Small towns will draw 2,000 visitors, while locations such as Tampa can draw 10 thousand plus visitors.


Our local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution originally looked to bring the wall to Sun City Center.  “When we looked at the requirements,” explained Jan Bassett, Chapter President, “we realized we needed to expand involvement.”  The County, the Parks department, as well as Vietnam Veterans Chapter 787 are all key participants in this event.


“We’re looking for escorts, volunteers to help people locate names on the wall,” mentioned Bassett.  If you’re interested, you can contact Jan Bassett at (813) 642-0691.



Nonprofit Importance


There are four organizations with a traveling Vietnam wall, not all are nonprofit.  Since The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is a nonprofit, there is no charge to see it.  “We charge a nominal fee for transporting the wall,” shared Russo, “and rely on local volunteers at the event site.”


Many Vietnam veterans bring family members.  When they see the names of those with whom they served, veterans frequently begin telling stories, often breaking decades of silence.  It also provides an opportunity for those who cannot travel to Washington, DC to experience the wall locally.


Russo and Harper travel to up to 18 cities a year from April to November.  “Planning takes at least a year,” said Russo, “2018 is already scheduled and so is most of 2019.  When we started, we thought we would go to Florida and Georgia.  Then requests starting coming in, and now we cover the Eastern part of the country.”


When:  October 26, 27, 28 and 29.  Opening ceremonies start at 11 a.m. on October 26.  Hours will be from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.


Where:  Veteran’s Memorial Park, 3602 N. Hwy 301, Tampa.  Driving Tip:  You can easily miss the park, so consider using your GPS.  Instead of turning right on 60 to go shopping in Brandon, turn left.  At 301 turn right.  You’ll cross a land bridge (think climbing a small hill), then make a large S curve, and once again have another small hill bridge.


After the bridge, you’ll see a large barn on the left.  Shortly after, you’ll cross a flat bridge; you’ll also see a large, blue water pipe on your right.  As soon as the bridge ends, you’ll need to make a left turn into the park.


The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall


Photos courtesy of Maureen Welsh.

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