By Greg Klein Staff writer
---- — While the fifth annual Hall of Fame Classic will bring a lot of fun to Cooperstown Saturday, with its switch to Memorial Day Weekend, the organizers wanted to do something special to honor local veterans as well.
The Wall that Heals, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, will be on display for the weekend. Although there are other replicas of the wall that also travel, this is the only one that is directly affiliated with the Washington D.C. memorial. This version of the wall has never been on display in central New York.
“It is a very somber inclusion to the weekend, but we feel it can add something special to Memorial Day,” said Brad Horn, senior director for communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “It will certainly enhance the salute to the military we are trying to achieve.”
According to Horn, the addition of the wall to the Classic weekend came together very quickly. About six weeks ago, while looking for partners and events to make sure the Classic set the right tone for the holiday, a contact in Washington made an introduction to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
The group, founded by veteran Jan C. Scruggs, built the Washington memorial and also the traveling version. It turned out that there was a hole in the schedule on Memorial Day. The VVMF and the village of Cooperstown each quickly gave approval, and the HOF had the solemn centerpiece for its weekend.
According to Scruggs’ bio, he served in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army and was wounded in Vietnam. In 1979, he came up with the memorial idea to heal a “different kind of wound — that inflicted on our national psyche by the long and controversial Asian war.”
Scruggs started fundraising and lobbying for the wall with $2,800 of his own money. It was dedicated on Nov. 13, 1982 and has the names of 58,282 soldiers who died in combat inscribed on it. Scruggs and co-writer Joel L. Swerdlow later wrote about his efforts in the book “To Heal a Nation.”
A decade later, Scruggs’ group decided to continue the mission by funding a traveling version of the wall, as an outreach for veterans who can not financially or emotionally make the trip to see the memorial. The Wall that Heals began to travel on Veteran’s Day in 1996. Two years later, an educational museum was added to the display.
For local veterans, the event will be more than festive.
“This is a very special piece of our history that needs to be shared,” said Bill Haase, HOF senior vice president and president of the Cooperstown Veterans Club. “This is not just a bunch of names on a wall. Each one of those people gave up everything they had to serve our country.”
Haase served in Vietnam in the 7th Marine Division. He said his unit was one of the first to fight in the war, serving in Operation Star Lite, and that he has many friends whose names are on the wall.
“It took me a long time to go (to Washington to see the memorial), and since then I have been back several times. The wall has a special meaning to me. Being in on the planning process has been very gratifying to me,” he said.
The display will be open 24 hours a day to allow maximum access, from Friday morning until it is taken down in the morning on Tuesday, May 28. According to the group’s website, one reason for the traveling wall and the open access is, “the traveling exhibit also allows the many 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.”
“They prefer it to be on display 24 hours a day because some visitors like to see it in a more private setting,” Horn said.
Added Haase, “Everybody should see it in their own time and place, but it takes some of us time to work our way up to it.”
Bob and Brenda Dobek are the site managers of the traveling wall. The husband-and-wife team has driven the wall more than a million miles in nine years. In April 2009 they were given a safe driving award for one million accident and ticket free miles.
Bob is an Army veteran from Michigan. Brenda is from Ohio. They married in 1987 and ran their own trucking company before taking on the job of transporting and maintaining the traveling wall.
“While I never served in the Vietnam War, I understand the sacrifice our soldiers gave and the respect they deserve for that sacrifice,” Bob said in a media release.
While the Dobeks will be on hand to supervise the wall this weekend, volunteers are still needed to take several shifts as “Keepers of the Wall.”
Whitney Selover is the local contact for volunteers and can be reached at 547-0369 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is an organizational meeting today at 5:30 p.m. at the Doubleday Field Parking Lot for anyone interested in volunteering.
There will also be a parade on Main Street at noon on Saturday. The 10th Mountain Division Color Guard and Band from Fort Drum will march and perform in the parade and before the Classic. The baseball begins at 1 p.m. with the hitting contest. The game will begin at 2 p.m.
“Much like in my career, baseball and the military are connected in America history,” Haase said. “It goes all the way back to the Civil War, when soldiers played baseball to pass the time in between battles.”