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Final donation assures Vietnam Moving Wall is in Manteca on Memorial Weekend
Phil Waterford Sr., left, of Manteca Ford chats with Pastor Mike Dillman of The Place of Refuge before making a $5,000 donation to help bring the Moving Wall to Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

The Moving Wall — an 80 percent replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., — is returning to Manteca a little more than 20 years after its first appearance.

It will be part of an expanded Memorial Weekend commemoration May 21-25 at Woodward Park.

Manteca Ford and Exotic Highline on Thursday donated the final $5,000 of the $20,000 it took to secure the memorial for the five-day appearance.

“I am excited that our community will have an opportunity to pay tribute to a monument that has come to represent those who fought and died in a conflict that spanned decades and left a nation forever marred by its controversy,” noted dealership owner Phil Waterford Sr.

Manteca Ford has been a staunch supporter of the annual Memorial Weekend Commemoration — the latest of its kind in the West.

The wall first appeared in Manteca over a five-day period in March of 1995. Upwards of 15,000 people made their way to the school’s football stadium to see the wall that contains the names of 18 men who attended Manteca Unified School District schools among the 57,000 fallen.

Some 5,000 were on hand in 1995 for the emotionally charged surprise reunion between keynote speaker and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis and one of the men whose lives he saved — Gwyndell Holloway. Many Vietnam veterans, overwhelmed by the names of comrades who didn’t return home, opted to visit late at night and in the early morning hours with many sleeping  under the stars near the wall. Of those, a number never uttered a word as they paid their respects.

Pastor Mike Dillman, the lead organizer of the Memorial Weekend Commemoration and a Vietnam veteran himself,  noted that a third of those who served in Vietnam and who returned home have since passed away.

Dillman is working with San Joaquin County Superintendent Mick Founts to arrange for students from Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon unified school districts to be bused to the Moving Wall. There he hopes to have volunteer Vietnam veterans talk with the students.

“The history of Vietnam often isn’t taught in school anymore,” Dillman said. “We want students to understand what happened.”

The committee organization the memorial event is raising funds to cover bus transportation costs for the students. By the end of the five-day appearance, Dillman  expects the Moving Wall to have attracted at least 50,000 people.

Those visiting the wall will be able to do rubbings of names just like as at the original Vietnam Memorial  in the nation’s capital.

“It is important that we all remember the freedom that we enjoy every day in this country isn’t free,” Waterford said as he shared the news of the $5,000 donation with a gathering of his employees in the North Main Street dealership’s showroom. “It comes with a very high price.”