The Wall That Heals Visits Fitchburg

It’s simply awe-inspiring. More than 58,000 names are etched into the glistening black surface of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC.

Visiting the Wall is an emotional experience, as family members and friends search out a name, touch it, perhaps leave a memento as they contemplate lives lost in that nation-wrenching conflict. The memorial contains, in chronological order, the names of every service member who died in the Vietnam War. The Wall is the most popular feature of the three memorials related to the Vietnam War; the two-acre memorial site at the National Mall also includes the Three Soldiers statue and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Not everyone can make the trek to the nation’s capital to see the Vietnam memorial. But local residents and visitors can see a replica of the Wall at Fitchburg’s Crocker Field on Broad Street this summer.

Bigger and Better

A brand-new model of The Wall That Heals — a three-quarter scale replica, spanning 375 in length, and 7½ feet high at its tallest point — will be on display at Crocker Field on Broad Street, Fitchburg, from July 12 through 15. The city is one of two Massachusetts communities this massive new wall will visit in 2018. The previous, smaller, version of The Wall That Heals has visited nearly 600 communities since it was dedicated in 1996.

The new replica is constructed of Avonite, a synthetic granite — and visitors will be able to do name rubbings of individual service member’s names.

At each stop, the 53-foot trailer that transports it is converted into a mobile educational center that includes digital photo displays of “Hometown Heroes,” service members whose home of record was in this area, a collection of items left at the wall in Washington, and more.

According to its founding organization, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, “bringing The Wall home to communities throughout our country allows the souls enshrined on the Memorial to exist once more among family and friends in the peace and comfort of familiar surroundings.” The traveling exhibit provides thousands of veterans who have been unable to cope with the prospect of facing The Wall to find the strength and courage to do so within their own communities, thus allowing the healing process to begin.

Three Days to Visit

The Wall will arrive in the city on July 11, escorted into the city by motorcycles, local police, firefighters and state police. The site will officially open on July 12, and will be open around the clock until The Wall leaves on Sunday.

The weekend will include music from the Fitchburg Military Band (now celebrating its 150th anniversary), greetings from local officials and recognition of local veterans.

“The three days of ceremonies and guest speakers is meant to cover all the aspects of the period, the Vietnam veterans, the sacrifice of those veterans, their families, Gold Star families and the 13 from Fitchburg whose names are inscribed on the wall — and more importantly finally and properly welcome them home like they did after WWI and WWII,” said Joe Firmani, who led the effort to bring the wall to the city. His non-profit organization, Operation Service, is also leading a fund-raising charge to support the set up and maintenance of the site during the visit.

Firmani and his wife, Cathy, have been active in efforts supporting military families, launching a Trees for Soldiers program (that last year gave away 436 Christmas trees), and creating the non-profit organization to carry on other programs. “Not a single person we have met over the years — WWII to active — think what they did or do was anything more than their job. But to us, every one of them is a hero,” he said.