Emotions flow as Moving Wall honoring those killed in Vietnam comes to Livonia
Livonia — He was fresh-faced and proud in his U.S. Army uniform in the small, color photo.
He had just turned 19, and after graduating from Redford High School, he enlisted.
Anthony L. Ryckaert soon would be deployed to Vietnam.
His cousin, Debra Teddy, adored him.
“He was more like another brother than a cousin because we were very close,” said Teddy, 65, of Garden City, wistfully. “I brought his picture with me so I could feel close to Tony here.”
Anthony L. Ryckaert left for Vietnam on Aug. 12, 1971. He was killed there one month later on Sept. 12, 1971.
“Here is his name,” said Teddy, pointing to the name, one of more than 58,000 names of servicemen and women who gave their lives for their country on the Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Ford Field. It opened to the public Thursday afternoon and can be seen through Monday.
“Whenever I think of Tony, I feel bad about the things he will never be able to achieve in life. There will be no marriage, children or grandchildren," said Teddy, who brought two of her granddaughters. She pauses. “And I think about how close we’d be.”
The Moving Wall is the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It has been touring the country for 30-plus years.
The incentive for the wall began when John Devitt, a Vietnam veteran, 71, from White Pine in Ontonagon County, attended the Washington, D.C., dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982.
According to an article on the Moving Wall’s website — which first appeared in Among Friends, Newsletter of Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and written by Gerry Stegmaier — the experience changed Devitt’s life and led to the creation of the Moving Wall.
The 252-foot-long wall, representing Vietnam casualties from 1959 to 1975, was built by Devitt, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver and other Vietnam veteran volunteers. Unlike the original Memorial Wall, the names cannot be etched on paper because they're not engraved deep enough.
It debuted in October 1984, in Tyler, Texas. Two structures of the Moving Wall now travel the country from April through November, spending about a week at each site.
As Devitt explained in Stagmaier’s article, "When you approach the memorial, you don't recognize what's going on. It's a visual experience that words cannot describe. ... Then suddenly, as the words inscribed on the Wall come into focus, it's so subtle, you're drawn in and it's too late. ... You're riveted and the emotions just pour forth."
In order for a name to be added to the wall, a deceased soldier must meet specific U.S. Department of Defense criteria, and those postwar casualties not eligible for inscription on the wall are honored instead with an onsite plaque.
Diane Frey's brother's name is among them: Larry Gambotto. He was 20 years old when he was killed in Vietnam.
“Fifty-one years ago, he was killed on September 13, and if I hear a song he liked, it still affects me,” she said.
Frey, 73, of Commerce Township said Gambotto was a sergeant leading a platoon.
"They were pinned in somewhere, but he took a grenade and charged the Viet Cong and was killed," she said. "But he saved his platoon."
Frey said her brother received a Gold Star. '"My mom was a Gold Star mom," she said.
She added, "It was so senseless. So sad."
A tent was erected in the center of Ford Field where a stage was set up so volunteers could read the names of every service person on the wall. The volunteers took turns reading the names and will continue while the wall remains through Monday. A bell is rung after each name is read.
The Rev. David P. Stechholz of Livonia, who also is a past president of the Livonia Rotary Club, said he was the first volunteer to begin reading names at 1 p.m. Thursday.
"This was the most unpopular war our country ever fought in, but it was decided that we needed to be there," he said.
A ceremony will be held at 6 p.m each evening through Sunday at Ford Field. The Moving Wall will be open 24 hours and is free and open to the public.