Veteran Chuck Sooy helps others find closure at 'healing wall'

By Matthew Bernat | Aug 20, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat Vietnam veteran Chuck Sooy has volunteered at The Moving Wall when it was Plymouth and also in Wareham, helping veterans find the names of friends killed during the war.

Vietnam veteran Chuck Sooy thought he’d remember the names of friends who died in the war before he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982.

So he didn’t write down their names. Sooy regretted that.

“When I got there, I was so overwhelmed because it’s twice the size of this wall and I left without looking up a name,” said Sooy, a Bourne resident. “You can’t look up a name if you can’t remember it. I left there even more devastated.”

Since then, Sooy, 70, has helped other veterans find closure as a volunteer at the The Moving Wall when it was in Plymouth and now during its Wareham visit.

Sooy assists visitors find names and answer questions at the mobile memorial. On the day it was being set up in Wareham, Sooy said he learned that a fellow Air Force veteran, someone he flew cover for during air missions, would be at the wall.

That was Peter Beaton of Wareham.

Soldiers such as Beaton took part in highly classified missions "over the fence" in enemy territory. When units such as Beaton's were compromised, Sooy was part of the team called in to participate in “prairie fire missions.”

“When we heard ‘prairie fire’ that means they’re running for their lives and everybody would drop what they’re doing to rescue those guys,” said Sooy.

It wasn’t until 1995 that Sooy could speak openly about his role in the war – providing cover for reconnansciace missions when they were discovered by the enemy over Laos or Cambodia.

“It’s been 47 years for me and I met my first team leader,” said Sooy, who served in Vietnam from July 1968 to July 1969. “We put him on the trail.”

Sooy said for a long time he didn’t speak about his service in the war, like a lot of veterans. Despite that first, overwhelming visit to the Washington, D.C. memorial, he returned – five times in total.

Having the Moving Wall in Wareham helps veterans unable to make the trip to D.C., he said.

“I know it’s called the Moving Wall,” he said. “I like to call it the healing wall.”

As a volunteer at the moving wall, Sooy said he’s seen veterans have the same reaction he did back in 1982. Sooy recalled watching one veteran step up to the Moving Wall when it was in Plymouth.

“He looked at the wall for five minutes then walked up to it and his mind kind of went blank and he walked away,” said Sooy. “I said, ‘I don’t mean to intrude. I’m a Vietnam vet and I had the same reaction you did. If there’s anything I can help with you let me know,” recalled Sooy.

That veteran was searching for Richard Arruda’s name, a Wareham native whose family knew Sooy’s wife.

“I said, ‘Richie’s name is on this panel here, do you want to know where Ronnie Bumpus’ name is?’” said Sooy, referring to another Wareham resident killed in the war.

In addition to helping visitors find names, Sooy said he’s taken his role as an ambassador for the wall seriously, learning all he can about the wall to answer questions.

Engraved on the wall are the names of nine of Sooy’s friends. He said helping others who visit is his small way of giving back.

“I’m here for everybody,” said Sooy. “If a veteran needs a hug, he’ll get one from me.”

The Moving Wall is open 24 hours a day through the closing ceremony Aug. 21 at 10 a.m

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