With much anticipation and a little controversy, the Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be on view in Cunningham Park from October 2nd to 8th.
The travelling exhibit, a 252-foot replica of the original, will be located at 196th Street and Union Turnpike in the Fresh Meadows park. An opening ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday; a POW-MIA candlelight ceremony at 8 p.m. on October 6th, and a closing ceremony at 11 a.m. on October 8th.
Bringing the exhibit to Queens was not without its controversy for Pat Toro Jr., president of the Queens chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. His dream for the last three years of sponsoring the exhibit here almost came to an end when the idea met resistance for Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village.
According to an exclusive story last March in the Queens Chronicle, there was some opposition in Middle Village concerning the location for the exhibit and its 24-hour operation. Toro suggested placing the exhibit on the lower baseball fields because of its central location, but the fields had been recently renovated and residents feared damage to them. Others worried that keeping the site open 24 hours a day would create problems with lighting, parking and noise. Parks normally close at 9 p.m.
Toro noted that since the Moving Wall was created, it has always been open to the public around the clock, as a courtesy to veterans. “This was not negotiable. The vets should be able to choose when they want to see the memorial. And if they want to sit and reminisce and pray, then they need to have access. I can’t imagine telling them that the park is closed.”
The debate continued and with time running out, Toro’s group ditched the Middle Village park plan and moved ahead with getting permits for Cunningham Park.
He now believes it may prove to be a better location, situated near the Grand Central Parkway and Long Island Expressway. In addition, Cunningham Park is used to hosting major public events, including the yearly visit of the Big Apple Circus in the spring.
The Moving Wall was the idea of Vietnam veteran John Devitt, who served as a helicopter door gunner during the war. He had visited the Washington, D.C., monument in 1982 and wanted to bring a replica to people who couldn’t travel there.
The travelling exhibit is an exact copy of the original, only half the size. It is six feet tall and nearly the length of a football field.
It includes 52,228 names of service members who lost their lives in the Vietnam War or were reported missing in action. The wall was created in 1984 and has travelled to over 900 cities since then.
Because of the exhibit’s popularity, two separate replicas tour the country from April to November. Its last appearance in Queens was in 1991 at Flushing Meadows Park.