Under a clear blue desert sky, a line of motorcycles, cars, trucks, and even a camouflaged Humvee escorted the AV Mobile Memorial Wall 23 miles from Palmdale, Calif., to its temporary new home in Rosamond, Calif., Nov. 7, 2023.
Riders with the Rogue Ones Motorcycle Group, the official “Guardians of the Wall,” were joined by motorcyclists from a variety of veterans and community groups such as the Elks, American Legion, Patriot Guard, and Rogue One of Rosamond. Riders from as far away as California City were in attendance.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies escorted the procession to the county line, then Kern County Sheriffs ran intersection interference to the Rosamond city limit where Kern County Fire Engine 15 swung onto the road to conduct the final few miles to Westpark Elementary, at 3600 Imperial Ave.
All along the route, people waved, honked their car horns, and saluted the escort. Rosamond High School students applauded the procession and their California Cadet Corp stood at attention and saluted the line of vehicles. Westpark Elementary children at recess peeked through the chain link fence to see all the excitement.
Once there, the unloading and setup began, overseen by AV Wall Committee Logistics Coordinator Steve Willis, Engineer Glen Nester and President Mike Bertell. The Wall panels are stowed very precisely in the trailer and must be stood up as soon as they come off. A metal track covered in jungle camouflage is installed first, and the panels are slid into the track and stood up alternating East and West panels, according to Stacia Nemeth, the committee treasurer and volunteer coordinator.
Just like soldiers, the panels rely on each other for support, and in the fierce Antelope Valley winds, mutual support is sorely needed. Overseers reminded volunteers to carry the panels horizontally so as not to catch the chilly autumn wind.
The AV Wall drive was spearheaded by Bertell, who was in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971, the last year served in country in Vietnam. The effort began with fundraising in 2005, and the inaugural display of the half-scale model was at Palmdale’s Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in 2009.
According to Nemeth, the committee almost gave up at one point and the suggestion was made to simply donate the money already raised to another veterans’ cause. But Bertell, who has friends’ names etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington DC, was adamant that they see the effort through. “We said we were going to build a Wall, and that’s what we’re going to do,” she remembers him saying.
Nemeth said that any group can make a Wall replica, but that her group works closely with the Department of Defense to make the AV Wall as accurate as possible. Unofficially, the DOD has told them their efforts are better than others. “Our database is quite robust and very informative. We have lots of extra information, especially about local people,” Nemeth said.
Names on the Wall are chronological with the dates of the fallen, flush left on the East panels and flush right on the West panels. This creates some room to put in names that were missed, if any. Those missing in action have their names engraved with a plus sign, and those whose bodies have been repatriated have a diamond symbol, so that when remains are found and identified, the plus is easily etched into a diamond. Once a year, the DOD updates the memorial in DC, and the AV Wall follows suit.
Visitors to the AV Wall can access the database at the site to find out where a specific name is located. There are people at the AV Wall 24-hours a day. There is a security guard at night and generally three to four members of the committee on around the clock.
One committee member, Augie Anderson, is uniquely qualified to console visitors to the AV Wall. He is the group’s Gold Star Ambassador, having lost his brother in Vietnam. Nemeth said he provides “the gentle gestures”” needed at ceremonies for families of the fallen. “He makes sure that people are saying and doing the right things.”
The youngest motorcycle rider was Jonathan Hines, 13, who rode with another Rogue Ones Motorcycle Club member. “They let me hang out with them until I’m old enough to drive a motorcycle,” he said. Hines attends Tropico Middle School and is a member of their California Cadet Corp. This was his first AV Wall run, but he has attended many veteran events such as parades, and Wreaths Across America.
“I love being a part of all this. It means a lot to us. I try to go on all the veterans’ rides,” Hines said. He wants to join the Marines after graduation, like some members of his family and fellow Rogue Ones Motorcycle Club riders. Other young people have been visiting the AV Wall on school field trips since it opened on Tuesday Nov. 7.
The AV Wall is sponsored by the Southern Kern Unified School District, the Rosamond Municipal Advisory Council, and the Rosamond Chamber of Commerce. As the motto of the AV Wall committee says: “Most walls keep people out. This Wall brings people together.”
Visiting the AV Wall
The AV Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall will be available for 24-hour viewing through 3 p.m., Sunday Nov. 12. at the Westpark Elementary School field, 3600 Imperial Avenue in Rosamond. A Candlelight Ceremony will be on Nov.10 at 8 p.m., followed by Taps. The Nov. 11 Veterans Day ceremony and Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin Presentation Ceremony is at 11 a.m. Taps will be played nightly.