Next Tuesday, when a mobile replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial stops in Troy while touring the country, a man in Washington, D.C. will take special satisfaction.
“To think of that coming through my own hometown, and being a part of putting that through the community that I grew up in — it’s incredibly gratifying,” said Jason Bain, senior collections curator for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and a 1997 graduate of Troy High School.
Founded in 1979 to support the construction of the actual Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly known as “The Wall,” the Fund is also behind “The Wall That Heals,” the half-scale replica, contained in a trailer and pulled by a semi truck, that’s visited more than 400 communities since Veteran’s Day in 1996.
The mobile memorial, on tour since late January, is expected to reach Troy 2 p.m. Tuesday. It’ll be set up in the Troy Community Baptist Church parking lot at 725 E Missoula Ave. and opened to visitors at 3 p.m.
The following morning, by 9 a.m., “The Wall That Heals” will hit the road for a three-day stay in Kalispell. Libby VFW Post 1548 will have flags available 8:30 a.m. at Pizza Hut to wave at the procession as it passes through.
The 250-foot replica memorial is combined with “a mobile education center.” One one side are digital screens that display material including “The Wall of Faces,” a project whose aim is to find and display a photo for each of the more than 58,000 names on The Wall.
On the other side of the trailer — “that’s my component,” Bain said — are four exhibition cases that delve into the history and purpose of The Wall and what it has come to mean for visitors.
“We include a piece of the actual granite that the wall is made out of and a small section with a name that’s engraved on it,” Bain said, so visitors can experience what it’s like to touch the wall and do a wall-rubbing as if they were visiting the actual memorial.
The cases also contain the sort of items — stuffed animals and other childhood toys, for example — that people leave at the actual memorial. Bain notes that these aren’t actual artifacts that have been left, only representations; the real artifacts will be among the items displayed in a museum planned to be constructed across the street from The Wall, Bain said.
“The whole exhibition tries to reflect how The Wall changed through time, and how it reflects … as much about visitors to the wall as it does about Vietnam and the Vietnam era,” Bain said.
Bain, who studied history and cultural anthropology at the University of Montana and museum studies at at George Washington University before a stint as curator of collections at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, has worked at the Fund since 2012. Though he doesn’t come from a military family, he’s long held an interest in military memorabilia and history and a desire to honor veterans for their service.
“No matter what the politics or the social issues are that surround any military conflict, I think it’s incumbent upon us to honor and respect those who serve our nation, because in a lot of ways they dont have the privilege to be political,” Bain said. “A soldier is someone who is sacrificing not just their lives in terms of losing a life to the battlefield, but all the things they may choose to do with their lives ... without question. To me that’s one of the most noble things that someone can do.”
Though he’s worked on “The Wall That Heals” for five years, it wasn’t until June that Bain saw firsthand — in Port Byron, New York — the effect the traveling memorial can have on a community.
“I talked to veterans who for one reason or another had never been able to make it to (The Wall), but when the traveling wall came through their town they were able to find the strength to come to experience it to find their buddies’ names and just to embrace a part of their past,” Bain said. “It made me realize just how much this means to the communities it goes through.”
Bud Priest, a Vietnam veteran and member of Troy VFW Post No. 5514, has never visited The Wall in Washington, D.C. and believes no one else in the VFW Post has either.
“So many of us (veterans) aren’t going to get to Washington and we would like to see it,” he said. “I heard after I left Vietnam that some of my friends got killed over there, and I’m looking forward to seeing the wall to see if their names are on it.”
Priest said VFW Post members will participate in the replica wall’s visit, including holding a breakfast Wednesday morning before the tour leaves town in a procession lead by a motorcycle escort, whose members, Priest said, will camp out Tuesday night in Roosevelt Park.
Priest said it made him “feel good” to learn that a Troy native and non-veteran played an important part in bringing “The Wall That Heals” to life.
“Even though (Bain) may not be a veteran, he’s still out there trying to help the veterans,” Priest said. “And I believe the wall is going to help a lot of veterans. I’m proud of him.”
Bain said he hopes that people who visit “The Wall That Heals” leave with an appreciation for a number of things, including the sacrifices veterans made, the complexities of the Vietnam era and its influence in shaping the modern world.
He also hopes visitors leave understanding “how profoundly reverent” the actual memorial is and wanting to see it in person.
“It’s unlike any other memorial in Washington, D.C.,” Bain said. “The best way to explain is to watch school children when they come to The Wall. You can have a group of rowdy fourth graders and they are doing what kids do, making a lot of noise, and when they start to walk down toward the apex of The Wall they get quiet and respectful and reverential … they understand they are at a place for solemn remembrance and respect. (That) doesn’t happen at Lincoln (Memorial), it doesn’t happen at Washington (Monument), it doesn’t happen at the Capitol (Building).”
Bain said “it’s such an incredible honor” to contribute to “The Wall That Heals.”
“Museums have always been to me a way of really bringing history to life,” Bain said. “To be able to do that in a way that has meaning — especially for a generation that was so disregarded and disrespected as the Vietnam generation was — is incredibly fulfilling.”