NEW YORK (NNS) -- "E-12. Here we go," said a New York firefighter, as a piece of the Vietnam Wall's east section was passed on to a few Sailors in town for Fleet Week 2003.
On and off-duty firefighters, Vietnam veterans and other members of the Staten Island community, joined 20 Sailors from USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) to help take down the three-quarter-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The faux-granite replica is a near-exact copy of the actual wall in Washington, D.C. and is made of wood and fiberglass.
Piece after piece, each eight-foot-high section of "The Vietnam Wall Experience" was loaded into the back of Harry Hooper's 18-wheeler. Hooper, a veteran of the Korean War, has been driving the wall around for the past four years and says he's received a positive response everywhere he's been.
"It's one of the most gratifying things I've ever done," said Hooper.
The exhibit crisscrosses the country every year, allowing millions to see and touch the black, mirror-like surface inscribed with the names of the 58,175 Americans who died or are missing in Vietnam. Dignity Memorial funeral, cremation and cemetery providers, created the memorial in 1990 for those who might never travel to the nation's capital.
Storekeeper 1st Class (SW) Leonard E. Green of Birmingham, Ala., is the son of a Vietnam veteran and has never been to the wall in D.C.
"It was great. This gave me the opportunity to see the wall firsthand," said Green.
He was also happy to see the New York firefighters show up to work alongside the volunteers of the nations' protector.
"We're working with the best," said Green.
As the two groups began working together, the mutual respect between servicemembers and firefighters became apparent.
Ron Wilson of Engine 161, Ladder 81, said he has tremendous regard for the military.
"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here," said Wilson.
Lt. Kevin Williams of Engine 161, Ladder 81, said that everyone there showed up, because it was something they wanted to do. They also had the choice to go out of service while helping with the project, but decided to remain ready in case a fire was called away.
"It's nice to work with people like that," said Williams.
Williams said taking down the wall took an enormous effort on the part of both groups. Within three hours, the 240-foot long wall, platforms and flags were loaded and ready to be moved on to the next town.
Vinnie Scamardella, chairman of the Vietnam Wall Experience on Staten Island, says he enjoyed having the wall in town, and many people aren't looking forward to seeing it leave.
"It's like a magnet. People who were here to put it up said they wouldn't be coming back and are back here to see it go. I wish I could find a way to keep it here."
The replica was on display in the South Beach community of Staten Island, May 23-27, and has since moved on to Hauppauge, N.Y. For a list of the upcoming cities and dates, or for more information, visit www.vietnamwallexperience.com.
For more USS Oak Hill news, visit the ship's Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/lsd51.