AKWESASNE — The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall comes to Akwesasne this week, bearing the names of four men from the St. Regis Mohawk community.
Charles Martin, Clifford Tarbell, Charles Rubado and William Tarbell died in Vietnam.
The 260-foot replica of the original wall in Washington, D.C., arrives Thursday and will be displayed until July 26 at American Legion Post 1479 at 509 Route 37 between the Bear’s Den Restaurant and Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.
Volunteers are building a supporting platform for the series of wall panels that will be assembled, which will be officially unveiled at a ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday, said Legion Commander Todd Conners.
“It will be a pow-wow-style event. We’ll have Native drummers, singers and dancers,” he said. “It is a way to honor our veterans and celebrate our culture. It will really be something to see for the people who are not from our community.
“We’re honoring not only our own vets but those from outlying communities,” he continued. “There are people on the wall from St. Lawrence County, Clinton County, Franklin County, different places.”
The wall, one of two that tours the country, will come to the North Country from Springfield, Vt., and it’s arriving a lot sooner than anyone expected, Conners said with a laugh.
“It’s kind of weird the way it worked out. We applied about eight months ago, and we figured about two years would pass before we’d get it.”
But a telephone call in April alerted Post 1479 that the wall was available this summer, so he jumped at the opportunity.
The fast-tracked deadline is making things a little hectic for the service organization, but Conners said volunteers from other American Legion posts and veterans groups have offered any help they can provide for security details, feeding the volunteer staff and assisting visitors in finding names they want to see among the 59,000 listed there.
The wall panels, encased in crates, will be escorted from Massena to Akwesasne by what may be hundreds of motorcycle riders, Conners said.
Anyone who wants to participate can meet at 9 a.m. at Post 1479 and ride as a group to Massena or meet at the Quality Inn on Main Street by 10 a.m. to join the ride.
Vietnam veteran Ron Garrow and other members of the Border Eagle Riders Motorcycle Club wanted to pay tribute to the American service members killed in Vietnam or reported as missing in action.
“Our veterans are very proud,” Conners said.
Of the 86,000 Native Indians who served in Vietnam, he recently learned, 90 percent of them volunteered “and this was during the draft,” he said.
“I also learned that 1 to 3 percent of the U.S. population serves in the military, but in the Native Indian population, it’s 17 percent.
“We have to pay our respects to these people. They gave it all. This is what we want to do to honor them and to do it in our own way.
“But this is not about Akwesasne. It’s about the Vietnam veterans and all of the veterans in the area.”
Conners was up at 4 a.m. Tuesday, working on a list of preparations that seemed mountainous, considering the short time span they had to get ready.
But the effort was moving right along.
“Most of our construction and cleanup is done,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “The painting is done.”
“We have a good crew,” he said.
They will tie up loose ends the rest of the week, he said, including making programs for Saturday, arranging for food and water.
To volunteer, donate food or to learn more, call the American Legion at 358-9976.
— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.