Vietnam remembrance is coming to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Vietnam remembrance is coming to Aspen

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A local Vietnam veteran has arranged to bring a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Aspen in May.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute, the largest replica of the memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., will be erected in Rio Grande Park on May 20-24. Organizing the event is John Hoepfer, who local skaters may recognize as the man who drives the Zamboni at the Aspen Ice Garden.

Etched with the names of the 58,000-plus servicemen and women who lost their lives in Vietnam, the traveling wall ” like the original ” elicits strong emotions, according to Hoepfer, who has arranged to bring the replica to four other communities in past years.

And at 4/5 scale, it’s nearly as large as the original monument. “It’s still 8 feet tall and 400 feet long,” he said.

Communities typically get on a two-year waiting list before they’re considered for hosting the wall, according to Hoepfer, but a longtime friend, Norm Bergsma, owns the replica and offered to fit Aspen into its travel schedule. The May dates were available.

The two men met working with Point Man Ministries ” veterans helping other vets through Christian outreach.

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The traveling memorial typically draws thousands of people, some of whom aren’t able to see the original wall in the capital, according to Hoepfer, who expects its display in Aspen to draw some 10,000 people from around Colorado and beyond.

In conjunction with the exhibit, he has arranged appearances by David Maraniss, author of “They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967” and Jan Scruggs, who founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and conceived of the idea for a memorial in Washington, D.C. Both men will speak while they’re here and visit Aspen’s schools, Hoepfer said.

In addition, he’s working with Theatre in the Park to produce a reading of letters featured in the documentary film, “Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam.” The theater’s tent at Rio Grande Park will go up several weeks early to accommodate the production and Hoepfer is hoping to get community members involved in reading the letters, interspersed with songs from the ’60s by local musicians.

A separate tent in the park will house computers to help visitors locate names on the memorial, as well as an exhibit of paintings by Bergsma, who came to grips with his experiences in Vietnam through his art.

The memorial ” both the traveling version and the one in D.C. ” has become the “healing wall,” according to Hoepfer, who served in Vietnam from 1968-72 with the U.S. Air Force.

“I’ve had wonderful conversations with Berkeley protesters ” it has definitely closed the gap, connected the dots,” he said. “We were definitely on the same page as Americans.”

For youths with no firsthand memory of Vietnam, the wall still has a role to play: “Teaching the younger generation how to care for its own, regardless of politics,” he said.

Hoepfer’s budget for bringing the wall to Aspen is $30,000, plus the costs of the two speakers. For the first time, he said, T-shirts will be sold in conjunction with the visit. They will feature a logo of Hoepfer’s own design ” a golden aspen leaf etched with veterans’ names as they appear on the wall.

Alpine Bank, the Aspen Elks Lodge and The Aspen Institute are among the local organizations helping produce the event. Details of the traveling display will also be posted on the Aspen Chamber Resort Association Web site, he said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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