The Vietnam War officially came to a close on April 30, 1975, but the men and women who served still deal with the consequences of the two decade war, which include living with the memory of their fallen brothers. The memory of fallen veterans must live on, according to American Legion Post 168 Riders President Jody Bracy and Vice President Jim Crawford, which is why they are trying to raise funds to bring The Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., to La Junta.

The last time the Moving Wall toured the Arkansas Valley was 15-20 years ago, Bracy estimated.

Members of American Legion Post 168 Riders of Manzanola are spearheading the fundraiser. Their goal is to raise $10,000 to help pay for the transportation of the wall and the construction of the stand that would support it, along with accommodations for the drivers who would bring the wall to town.

Bracy and Crawford would like to host the wall in a area such as Potter Park's baseball diamond. Bracy said they've received a tentative agreement of cooperation from the city of La Junta and the Parks and Recreation department to assist with hosting the wall, but that the project is in its early stages of development and logistics still need to be worked out.

The riders also are putting the word out for volunteers who can help in a variety of ways, such as ensuring that people are guarding the wall 24 hours a day during its stay in La Junta, building the stands, setting up and tearing down the wall, and providing transportation to veterans who want to visit it.

American Legion Posts 2015 of La Junta, 94 of Ordway, 6 of Las Animas and 8 of Rocky Ford have signed on to support the project. Bracy said she hasn't spoken with the posts in Walsh, Holly or Eads, but she thinks they'll want to help.

"It's a big undertaking," said Bracy. "We want to make sure that when we get closure to requesting the wall and everything that we do have a solid, flat surface that we can have donated."

The problem with hosting the wall at, for example, the Arkansas Valley Fair rodeo arena, is that the ground is kept turned up and soft. This makes physically approaching the wall difficult for veterans with mobility issues or physical disabilities because many of them rely on wheelchairs or canes, which don't mix well with soft sand or lose dirt. Something such as a baseball diamond would be much flatter, and it would also presumably address other logistical concerns such as distance from parking to the wall.

The Moving Wall serves to honor and memorialize American soldiers who didn't return from Vietnam, but it also stands to help those who did return to work through their inner conflicts and turmoils that they still experience 44 years after the war ended. So much so that it's sometimes referred to as "the healing wall," according to Bracy.

"(The wall is) actually for our brothers who didn't make it back,' said Crawford, "but those of us that made it home, it's a way of visiting them, remembering them," said Crawford.

Crawford has technically visited the moving wall before, he said, but he's never been able to bring himself to approach closely enough to read the names inscribed upon its plexiglass panels.

"There's some emotion there," he said. "There are names in there that just kind of ... It's devastating to think that you came back and they didn't. And you keep wishing, what could I have done to make sure that they came back with me?

"At one point I was sent out in an 'evac. Three days later I came to. I (had been) unconscious. I kept thinking, why wasn't I one of them?"

Viewing the wall can be a powerful and moving experience. Crawford shared an anecdote about his son. He'd taken his son to view the Moving Wall some years ago at Cripple Creak, where it tours annually, and even though he did not walk up to it himself, his son did.

Something changed in between the time they'd arrived at the wall and when his son returned from reading the names etched across it. His son, Crawford said, had never been one to donate to anything. But Crawford learned that his son started donating to the Moving Wall after experiencing it firsthand.

"He donated to the wall because there was something about what he saw in me," said Crawford.

Crawford hadn't shared many stories with his son about his time in Vietnam, mostly because he didn't have stories than many people would be interested in hearing, he said.

"Most of my experiences aren't something anybody else really wants to hear. The only stuff that I thought were good experiences, were stuff like when we're back home and we're sitting there just having a good time. You're doing pushups with girls on your backs and stuff like that. Those were the only things that we're capable of sharing," said Crawford.

Crawford indicated that something about seeing the names of service members who died fighting in Vietnam communicated Crawford's pain to his son in a way that he hadn't been able to do directly.

Crawford has mobility issues, he said, but he's too stubborn to use a cane. As far as he's concerned, he should have died a long a time ago, with those with whom he served.

Bracy started, "They get to, I don't want to say, 'Make peace,' but they ge ..."

"They get to cry again," said Crawford.

"They get some closure," Bracy added.

Bracy and Crawford are aiming to have the wall visit sometime in 2020 or 2021 because they need time to raise the $10,000. They may end up needing more than that amount, but it's what they are aiming for as they get the project rolling.

Those interested in donating or volunteering to help with the Moving Wall project can contact Bracy at 719-928-1848.

"We have an account down here at First National Bank. They can drop off any donations to American Legion Post 168. In their memo they can put 'Moving Wall donation.' We are a 501(c)19, so it is tax-deductible," Bracy said.

cburney@ljtdmail.com