The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 26, 2013

Johnstown area up to the task | Get behind effort to host The Moving Wall

The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. is a powerful and moving experience.

It’s hard to grasp the toll of the Vietnam War without gazing upon the 58,000 names of American service men and women who were killed during the United States’ involvement.

Unfortunately, many local people are unable to make the trip to the nation’s capital to see the monument. Whether because of economic reasons, health issues or time constraints, it’s just too much of a journey for some.

We understand that.

Luckily, there is an alternative. The Moving Wall is a half-size replica of the memorial in Washington. It has toured the country since 1982, bringing the experience to those who couldn’t see the full-size one. There is now a second mobile monument. They travel to locations across the U.S., spending about a week in each destination.

The Moving Wall last appeared in Johnstown in 1988, and at least one local man, Paul Rinker, thinks it is time to bring it back to the Flood City.

Rinker told our Dave Sutor that he saw The Moving Wall in Arizona more than two decades ago and found the names of two childhood friends from Stoystown who died in Vietnam, Robert Haines and Paul Grine.

“I traced their names out on The Moving Wall and some kind of peace came over me,” Rinker said.

He thinks that kind of peace would coincide nicely with an event that isn’t usually thought of as peaceful: Thunder in the Valley.

As conflicting as the combination of a solemn, peaceful monument like The Moving Wall and the roaring sound created by 200,000 motorcyclists might seem, there is some logic to Rinker’s idea.

“There’s an old adage that says opposites attract,” Rinker said. “Thunder is sort of loud, wild and adventuresome, where the wall is sort of sedate, hallowed ground.”

Not only that, but, as Lisa Rager pointed out, bikers have a reputation for being patriotic. We agree with Rager, who is the executive director of the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

We’ve seen countless motorcycles at Thunder in the Valley events adorned with MIA/POW flags, stars-and-stripes paint jobs or military decals.

The biggest question about bringing The Moving Wall to Johnstown, as so often is the case with good ideas, is how to pay for it.

While the organization that handles The Moving Wall wouldn’t give Sutor an official price for bringing the monument to a city, we’ve heard estimates ranging from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

Even if it’s on the low end of the spectrum, that’s still a significant amount of money for people and organizations that have been hit by tough economic times.

But it’s not just a monetary investment that is required to bring The Moving Wall to our city. It also would require dozens of volunteers and groups working together to coordinate everything from selecting a display site to promoting its appearance.

We know that bringing The Moving Wall to our region won’t be an easy task. And there is no chance for instant gratification, as it would be at least 2015 or 2016 before it could come here for Thunder in the Valley.

But we’re confident that the people of our region can make it happen. And we agree with Johnstown Councilman Pete Vizza, who complimented Rinker’s efforts.

“I encourage anybody that can, in any way, help the community like this,” Vizza said.

So do we.

Anyone interested in assisting Rinker’s effort to bring The Moving Wall to Johnstown can contact him at 420 Vine St., Apt. 2308, Johnstown, Pa. 15901-1926 or by phone at 410-3877.

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