Vietnam Moving Wall

June 20 – 24, 2019, Stockton, California

The Vietnam Moving Wall was in Stockton last month. I spent four days working a night shift patrolling and helping visitors find names, as well as wandering Weber Point in Stockton on my own.  

There were others there too, in small groups or alone. But, in a sense, all were alone. Alone with thoughts and memories as they looked at the names. The Moving Wall is about one-third the size of the actual Wall in Washington, D.C. but it has just as big an impact on those seeing it for the first time and those returning to their pasts.

The entire time the Wall was in Stockton I was continuously feeling its pull, somehow sensing there was a story it needed to tell. I finally heard what it was trying to tell me – and its story is powerful.  

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Telling stories is nothing new to me. I slid into broadcast news in the summer of 1974 as part of a joint government/private enterprise program which allowed businesses to hire folks as interns, with half of the money coming from the government and half from the industry. I was paid the grand total of a buck-fifty an hour to follow crazed people around in small Toyotas with big clunky film cameras in the summer heat. It was an incredibly hot summer. The little Toyota station wagons that the KFSN (Fresno, CA) news crews used were ovens and often the air conditioners struggled just to pass in warm air.

My first gig as an employee was at KXTV in Sacramento. I continued to learn the craft of shooting, processing, and editing 16mm single system film on older Auricons and Generals and (when I was good) the new CP16s. Just about the time I got comfortable, about a year and a half after getting on board, I walked into work and found myself in a mini-class, learning how to operate a “video camera.” It was a strange beast,but we had no choice – we were thrust into the new technology literally overnight. 

Over the next twenty-five plus years I continued to work with 3/4-inch tape, then Beta, then DVC Pro (at KOVR). All of this was linear, meaning sound and picture were edited in the order they appeared in the story.

But that ugly monster, technology, wasn’t done yet. I began mentoring high school kids in video production and the principal insisted I teach them some new-fangled thing called digital nonlinear editing. Learning this nearly killed me emotionally. I just didn’t get it. I felt like a dinosaur. One of the old geeks who couldn’t make the film to tape transition. I had nightly headaches. I could shoot, but the damn program (Final Cut Pro 1.0) lurked in the school computer, doing whatever it could to mess with my tiny brain. The terminology, the computer keyboard, the files within files within files, the icons, and the lack of something physical I could put in a machine and rewind or fast forward, got to me. Finally got so mad I made arrangements with a friend of a friend for a tutoring session. There were four others, some of us dinosaurs and a few new kids who seemed to absorb everything in a wink. In one marathon eight-hour session I grasped enough to understand and defeat the evil computer and its demonic software. And it was at this point I realized that the cut-and-paste of non-linear editing mirrored the same way in word processing programs. Just a tad more complicated.

So now, with forty-five years of videojournalism, aka visual storytelling, under my belt I’m sensing a change in my style. While the early years were spent as an appendage to the reporter, my stint at KQED in San Francisco instilled a sense of independence. That’s the only shop I worked at where on-air and off-air personnel were treated as equals. And stories were given as much airtime as they needed.  Not the standard sixty seconds to a minute and a half of commercial news.

That style is returning to me, enhanced by the magic of digital editing. I find that as I get older I don’t move or react as quickly and seem to avoid tossing stories together unless inspiration hits. Stories are longer and slower, and I like to think, deeper. Some days I can shoot, and the story tells itself. Other times I shoot over a period of days and the elements seem to marinate until they all weave together. In the end, the story is as long as it takes to tell.

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Thus, this story of names engraved in stone. I’ll admit struggling with it and I was tempted to do a formula story (This is the Wall and lots of people came to visit and look at it). But my heart and soul resisted, and it took a week for my inner being to hear what the wall wanted to say. It is a tale familiar to our Vietnam veterans. 

A tale that needs retelling and deep listening.

Ralph (Vietnam Veteran) and Marie Womak visit the Moving Wall in Stockton, CA.

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Video and photography © Cyndy Green. 

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2 Comments

  • Once again thank you Cyndy. Your stories, whether marinated or self told are always well done and appreciated. Thank you for continuing to tell our stories to the world.

    • Let us know if you have any ideas that would be relevant to primarily Delta to East Bay residents. And thank you for your help.

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