Jen Beasley/The Gazette
Members of Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America join with the Montgomery County Army Air Corps for a moment of silence after cleaning the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Saturday. The group has been scrubbing the wall once a month from April to October for 15 years to honor those who died in the war.With a long scrub brush in hand, Noel Koch of Rockville studied the inscriptions on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at sunrise Saturday. His Army unit, the 3rd RRU, was home to the first recognized combat death in that war, James T. “Tom” Davis, and as Koch talked about Vietnam, the droplets on his cheeks were not spray from the hoses wetting down the black granite.
“Part of keeping the wall clean is keeping our honor clean,” said Koch, who served in Vietnam in 1962. “It’s our obligation.”
For 15 years, members of the Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America have gathered once a month from April to October to clean the wall of the fingerprints and smudges left by visitors to the memorial. The veterans scour the wall rain or shine, moving aside wreaths and mementos left by visitors and carefully replacing them when the job is finished.
“I was there very early, so when I came back people didn’t even know where I’d been, and as things got worse, of course, people came back and were just treated horribly, spit on,” Koch said of the war. “Our countrymen didn’t care about us so we just did what we had to do, so we had to look after each other.”
The effort was begun by Art Wong and Mike Najarian, both of Silver Spring, who learned in 1994 that other groups were cleaning the wall and felt a responsibility to pay homage to their comrades. The men of Chapter 641 now clean the wall and its path, as well as the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the statue of the Three Soldiers.
“This is our memorial,” said Wong, who served in the Marines from 1967 to 1968, “The Park Service Doesn’t allocate any money to wash it, that’s why it’s all volunteer.”
Now that some of the veterans are getting older, members of the Montgomery County Army Air Corps, a civilian auxiliary to the Air Force comprising seventh-graders to college sophomores, comes down to assist with the wash. But Chapter 641 isn’t ready to pass the torch yet and dozens showed up Saturday for the first wash of the season.
“We’re just not ready to give up on it yet, but we’ve got to find somebody to take care of it,” said Jim Stastny of Damascus, who was stationed in Thailand with the Air Force from 1970 to 1971. “I have friends on this wall. Those were trying times in America and they did not get the recognition they deserved for their heroism and their sacrifice and it’s also a time of personal cleansing, you might say.”
Donald Adam, a National Park Service volunteer, said especially during the peak tourist season hairspray, sunscreen and residue from people taking rubbings take a toll on the memorial.
“We appreciate all their time and effort,” Adam said. He said several groups come to clean the wall, so it’s washed almost weekly now, something the Park Service couldn’t do otherwise.
“The wall really needs it after a while. We can’t keep it as clean as it needs to be.”
Bill Gray of Silver Spring, who served in the Army in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, said he has been coming down to clean the wall for three years, and has even washed it in a snow storm.
“It’s an opportunity to honor our friends who were killed and (for) those of us who were wounded physically and mentally, it’s a day to heal ourselves and heal each other,” Gray said. “It’s a small sacrifice we can pay for what these people paid for our country.”
I saw this on AirmanMom‘s site and decided to add the article that was written along with the photo.