National division noted at The Moving Wall's closing ceremony

Speaker: 'The war was a machete cutting through families and friends'
By Matthew Bernat | Aug 21, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat Vietnam veteran Chuck Sooy salutes as taps plays during the closing ceremony at The Moving Wall on Monday morning.

The Vietnam War divided the U.S. in ways that’s hard to describe to those who didn't experience that tumultuous time. However, Rear Admiral Rick Gurnon, former president of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, tried on Monday.

“For anyone younger than 45, this seems like a history lesson. For my generation, the war was a machete cutting through families and friends, wounding all with its hate,” said Gurnon.

He spoke at The Moving Wall’s closing ceremony, held at Andersson Track across from Wareham Middle School. The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was on display from Aug. 17 - 21.

During part of the war, Gurnon attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. While he didn’t serve, he noted the chaos overseas impacted everyone at home.

As a cadet, Gurnon posted the names former cadets who died in combat in the academy’s memorial hall “and more names came every day.”

Noting that today the country is divided over President Donald Trump's actions, “back then it was worse,” said Gurnon. “It wasn’t the hat on your head,” he said referring to the red “Make America Great Again” caps, “but the length of your hair.”

Long-haired citizens protested the war, at odds with those supporting the U.S.’s policy of stopping the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, said Gurnon. Those who sported short hair cuts, such as Gurnon, were seen as supporting the war effort.

“I got frequent taunts of ‘baby killer,’ but it was nothing compared to the vitriol and animosity that our returning vets received, many who were just teenagers,” said Gurnon.

He went on to say the treatment veterans received was deplorable.

“Back in the 1960s and 1970s, soldiers, sailors and airmen were lepers in our communities,” said Gurnon.

Looking back, he said those attitudes time were captured in music. He cited two songs, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Sgt. Barry Sadler and “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die” by Country Joe and the Fish.

Sadler’s song praised those fighting as Gurnon recited: “Fighting soldiers from the sky, Fearless men who jump and die, Men who mean just what they say, The brave men of the Green Beret.”

From the second song, Gurnon quoted: “Well, come on all of you, big strong men, Uncle Sam needs your help again…Well there ain’t no time to wonder why, Whoopee! We’re all gonna die.”

Another protest song, “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, also garnered a mention from Gurnon. The song memorialized the shooting at Kent State on May 4, 1970 when National Guardsmen killed four student war protestors and wounded nine.

It wasn’t until the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened in 1982 that many felt a national healing process started. Gurnon noted that the wall itself sparked outrage when it was first built.

“It was called a gash, a wound,” said Gurnon.

He added that James Webb, who went on to become a Virginian senator, said: “I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone.”

The criticism was short lived. Gurnon noted that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial soon became one of the most visited and revered monuments in Washington, D.C.

By bringing The Moving Wall to Wareham, Gurnon credited the many people and groups who worked over the past year to make that a reality. U.S. Congressman Bill Keating (D-Massachusetts), agreed.

Keating noted that when veterans were returning home, protesters, “conflated their thoughts on the war with those who were serving us.”

He said, “The Moving Wall doesn’t come to every city and town in the U.S. It being here is a terrific statement for the community.”

Chaplain for the Wareham-New Bedford Lodge of Elks, Rev. Rick Duffy, ended the ceremony with a call for peace.

“Thank you for the privilege of us being able to share this time together,” he said. “Hear our prayer for peace in our world, that we may not have to build a Wall like this again.”

Visitors take photographs of the Vietnam veterans who attended Monday's ceremony. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Frank Noonan of Onset plays taps. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Bob White, a member of the Wareham Veterans Council, accepts a plaque for his efforts in helping to bring The Moving Wall to town. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Johannes Heinrich Wagner embraces Bob White, who is wearing black, before White received an award for helping to bring The Moving Wall to Wareham. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
U.S. Congressman Bill Keating addresses the crowd. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
In his remarks, Rear Admiral Rick Gurnon touched on how the Vietnam War divided the country. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter touches down before the closing ceremony. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Comments (3)
Posted by: Society for Suppression of Noise | Aug 21, 2017 23:40

Rear Admiral Rick Gurnon is right--the war was extremely divisive.  Part of the general social upheaval at the time was a basic distrust of "the man"--big biz, big government, and particularly LBJ and Tricky Dick.  (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)


Not sure how many folks these days know that over 30% of combat deaths were draftees.  Being drafted meant that if you were 18 years old, you could receive a notice in the mail to show up for your "interview".  No choice in the matter.  (Unless you were female or an illegal invader.)  For nearly 18,000 teenage boys, these notices were a death sentence.  From 1969 to 1972, this life or death or life-altering event was determined by a damned LOTTERY!  Some congressman drawing a blue capsule from a big bowl determined whether you lived or died.


Damned shame that the individual vets were the recipients of the country's contempt for the war in general.  I remember that.  "Baby killers"?  Yeah, blame the My Lai Massacre.  Bunch of damned idiots, apparently, but I wasn't there--can't judge.  But neither were most Nam vets, yet they all got blamed.  Damned shame.

God bless Bob White and the Wareham Veteran's Council for bringing the Moving Wall to our area.  Saw it once before on the west coast--the effect was no different this time.  There are just so many names on the wall.  So many names.  I've had my butt kicked often enough that I don't weep any more.  Except when I see all those names.  So many names.

Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate
Send your sons off before it's too late.
Be the first ones on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.

And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Posted by: barnstorm | Aug 22, 2017 09:35

JFK was the 1st President to send advisors and troops into Vietnam after making a deal to back the South Vietnamese government against the communist North. At the time of JFK's death, the U.S had between 15,000 & 20,000 troops on the ground there. LBJ increased our military presence to 550,000 into that country's conflict. People ignorantly called Vietnam's South/North conflict back then, "Nixon's War"! Most of those 58,315 deaths occurred under the LBJ administrations tenure. In fact, it was Johnson that ordered the bombing of North Vietnam after the so-called Tonkin Gulf incident. Nixon never gets credit for getting the troops out. Yes, he had to. Congress refused to give  any more money  towards the original agreement with South Vietnam by killing the Appropriation Bill in 1972.

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Aug 22, 2017 16:07

According to an in depth article which can be found at:

1) Eisenhower was the first President to send advisors

2) Kennedy committed to continuing Eisenhower’s commitment and during his presidency greatly increased the number of advisors

3) Johnson hesitated to send “American boys” to Vietnam fearing it could cost him the 1964 election. In August 1964 Congress passed the Gulf of Tohnkin Resolution authorizing Johnson to take all necessary measures against North Vietnam. March 1965 Johnson ordered sustained bombing of North Vietnam which lasted three years. Also in March 1965 Johnson sent the first combat troops to South Vietnam.

If you wish to comment, please login.