PHS Welcomes Vietnam Memorial

Ponaganset to welcome replica of Vietnam Memorial
Posted on 11/01/2018

Glocester’s Ponaganset High School to welcome replica of Vietnam memorial



By Donita Naylor

Journal Staff Writer

Posted Oct 31, 2018 at 11:20 PMUpdated at 12:32 AM


Starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, a procession of police and fire departments, veterans groups, motorcycle groups, the high school band and others will escort “The Moving Wall,” to the high school.




It started when a student in Christopher Stanley’s “U.S. History in the Movies” raised her hand.

The class at Ponaganset High School in Glocester had compared movies such as “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket” with the PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War.” Stanley arranged for them to have a video conference with documentarian Ken Burns and director Lynn Novick.

Images of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., filled the screen as the interview ended. The student wanted to know if the class could visit the wall in Washington.

Stanley recalled Wednesday that he answered: “I’ll do better. I’ll bring the wall to you.”

A year and two months later, he’s delivering on the promise.

Starting at 9 a.m., a procession of many of the state’s police and fire departments, veterans groups, veterans, motorcycle groups, along with Providence Mounted Command, local dignitaries, antique fire apparatus, a Vietnam-era Jeep, the high school band and others will escort the trucks carrying a half-size replica of the memorial, known as “The Moving Wall,” to the high school.

The replica is one of two that have toured the country for 30 years.

At a 10 a.m. ceremony Thursday, the Rev. Philip G. Salois, who served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, will bless the wall, and a moment of silence will be followed by a cannon salute, and taps. Rhode Island Director of Veterans Affairs Kasim Yarn will speak Thursday morning and emcee the Friday morning opening ceremony, which starts at 10:30 a.m.

On Thursday night, a candlelight vigil will begin at 6:30, during which seven Ponaganset students will read the names of the 207 Rhode Islanders who died in the war.

One of the readers is Emily Williams, 17. She said the names mean something to her, partly because she has met veterans by helping with the Wreaths Across America assembly each year, and because she learned about the war by helping with the timeline of posters that students are displaying in the library.

As a senior who will graduate in the spring, she said, “that was kind of like the craziest thing to take in,” when learning about the war, that some of those who went to Vietnam were “just a couple of years older, some younger” than her. “To think of myself at this age, I would never be able to just stop whatever I was doing in my life and go halfway across the world. I can’t imagine myself in that position,” she said.

She has been practicing the names she will read. “I want to get these right,” she said.

Later on Thursday night, a gala reception in the Media Center will highlight Ponaganset’s participation in The Big Read Community, and 500 copies of Tim O’Brien’s book “The Things They Carried” will be given to people who will read it and take part in multi-generational discussions.

Each night after taps, “The Flames of Freedom” will be lit on the pond in front of the school. The bonfire will be in a cauldron donated by Shawmut Metal. Tech ed teacher Steve Martin supervised a project in which students cut the POW logo out of the metal so flames will show through.

During Friday’s speaking program, the U.S. Air Force 143d Airlift Wing will perform a flyover of a C-130 and UH-60s. The keynote speaker is Wayne Smith, who grew up in Providence, was a combat medic in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, and, after overcoming his own wartime trauma, helped other veterans as a therapist and advocate. He was part of a group of 20 veterans who accompanied 20 Vietnamese soldiers on a 1,200-mile bicycle journey in 1999 to promote peace and healing. He appears in the Ken Burns documentary.

On Saturday, the main speaker will be former Chief Justice of the R.I. Supreme Court Frank J. Williams, who served in Vietnam. His speech is at 1 p.m., followed at 2 p.m. with a jump by the U.S. Naval Academy Skydiving Team. One of the jumpers is Midshipman 1st Class Derek Forand, son of Ponaganset economics teacher Roger Forand, a colleague of Stanley’s.

The skydivers will deliver a U.S. flag and a POW flag, which Stanley said was “a tip of the hat” to the late Sen. John McCain. Stanley, who is active in politics in Warren, where he lives, was a delegate for McCain when the former POW ran for president.

The keynote speaker in the 9 a.m. Sunday program is Roger Harris of Boston. He, too, appears in the documentary.

The featured speaker on Monday, at 9 a.m., will be John Musgrave, who appears in seven episodes of the documentary. Stanley described him as a gung-ho Marine who was disabled in the war and became one of the war’s opponents.

A 1963 Ponaganset graduate will close the visit. Col. Sherwood “Woody” C. Spring, served from 1968 to 1969 with the 101st Airborne Division and from 1970 to 1971 as a helicopter pilot with the 1st Cavalry Division. After the war he became an astronaut and retired as an Army colonel.

While the wall replica is at Ponaganset, which Stanley said is its fifth appearance in Rhode Island, students will interview veterans on camera to collect oral histories.

Emily Williams said she has listened as veterans, visiting as part of the Wreaths Across America, gave their histories. What was “most impactful” for her, she said, was seeing “how much they hurt to even just think about” their experiences and yet “so many of the veterans are willing to share it with us.”

Some of the oral histories are scheduled, Stanley said, but students will be ready to record memories triggered by the wall. As veterans age, it won’t be long before “the story of the foot soldier will be gone,” he said.

“I grew up in a small town where those guys who came back from Vietnam were my baseball coach, volunteers in the fire department. They molded me,” he said. “Not once did I ever hear them complain,” even though they weren’t treated well.

From them, he said, he learned “a profound lesson about duty, honor and integrity.”

dnaylor@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7411

On Twitter: @donita22

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