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Linton Weeks The Navigator - Live

Hosted by Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, May 27, 1999

Thank you for visiting "The Navigator Live." Today's chat ended at 3 p.m. EST.

Today's guest was Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning. Sha-Chelle is a co-founder of The Virtual Wall (, one of several online sites honoring soldiers who fought in Vietnam. In honor of Memorial Day, she be answered your questions about war and remembrance and the ways in which technology can help us heal.

"The Navigator Live" appears each Thursday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern time. It's a live, moderated discussion offering users the chance to talk directly to intriguing and sometimes unusual guests who are shaping the digital world. "The Navigator" appears in The Washington Post print edition every Thursday. You can read past columns by following this link.


Linton Weeks: Greetings. Welcome Sha-Chelle. Let's get right to the questions.

Linton Weeks: What exactly is The Virtual Wall? When was it created?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: The Virtual Wall is a collaborative effort between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and WinStar Communications. We have created a virtual replica of The Wall that allows friends and family members to search for loved ones and leave a typed, audio or graphic remembrances. The Web site has become one of the largest depositories of personal history about individual Vietnam Veterans. Since its launch in November 1998 we have had more than 15 million visitors to this Internet site.

The Virtual Wall lets our nation collect and preserve the memories of veterans and their relatives like never before. Every name on the Virtual Wall is an active archive, enabling relatives, friends, and comrades to leave behind images and sound files, creating a unique archive of personal information about the war, an archive rich in both pedagogical and social value THAT IS A DIGITAL LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.

This is a profound use of web technology -- to connect minds to minds, family members to long lost friends, and keep the memory of our loved ones alive, to honor and respect them.

Linton Weeks: Aren't there other memorial sites, such as No Quarter, Virtual Wall (not THE Virtual Wall) and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund? Why did you think the world needed another one?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Yes, there are hundreds of sites about the Vietnam War and the men and women who served. Some of these sites sell books, videos, information, and memorabilia. Some sites focus on a specific squad that served in Vietnam. Some sites have a local veteran focus and share pertinent local information with vets.

However, our site offers those who are unable to visit the actual wall a chance to experience to some degree the emotional impact of visiting the physical site in Washington, D.C. The Virtual Wall's mission and focus is to create the largest repository of reflections and remembrances for our future generations.

The Virtual Wall is a crucial educational component about creating a digital legacy

Linton Weeks: What's your story, Sha-Chelle? How did you get involved?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Under the leadership of Jan C. Scruggs, The Wall was built. The Memorial Fund took the next step in developing the traveling replica "Wall that Heals" exhibit. Knowing that it is imperative for Americans to study and understand the Vietnam Era and extend "The Wall that Heals" to "The Wall that Teaches", the Memorial Fund reached out to Nathan Kantor, President and Chief Operating Officer of WinStar, and Gary Markovits, Vice-President of WinStar for Education, to use WinStar's broadband capacity and telecommunications expertise to collaborate on a nationwide educational program entitled:

Echoes From the Wall: History, Learning, and Leadership through the Lens of the Vietnam Era

All agreed that it is essential to educate our young Americans -- our next generation of soldiers and decision-makers -- with a balanced understanding of probably the most divisive period in our nation's history since the Civil War.

I met with The Memorial in summer 1998, at which time I toured The Wall. The Memorial shared with me some remembrances, letters, and poems that were left at The Wall. It was clear that one of the most precious gifts we could give to future generations is the legacy of our hearts, our souls, and our thoughts.

The chance to reach an even wider audience through the Web by creating a digital legacy for educators, families, students and historians for future generations is profoundly important.

We created The Virtual Wall as part of this educational Digital Legacy.

This goal of this educational initiative is to present information about the war and its veterans to students and others worldwide. A companion curriculum-based web site will be launched for the 1999-2000 school year. Under the direction of The Memorial, many prominent American historians, journalists, and educators are helping to accomplish this very important task.

Linton Weeks: What were the difficulties of launching the site?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: The creation of the Virtual Wall proved to be a challenging endeavor.

For starters, we never expected that this site would have so many visitors. The first day we launched the site, we had over one million hits by 4 p.m. We had to add another server that day just to accommodate the traffic.

Linton Weeks: Who maintains the site? How much time does that take?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: The uploading system itself is fairly simple with the technology we have in place, however, we had to come up with some type of filtering system since this site will be used for educational purposes. It was very important to the VVMF and WinStar that the Virtual Wall is a special place that honors and remembers these young men.

Linton Weeks: Can you tell us a couple of stories about the ways in which people have used your site?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: I mostly think about Jennifer Denard, a woman the same age as myself who never had the chance to know her father. He was killed in 1970 at the age of 28. My father also served during the Vietnam era, however he is alive and I have been very lucky to known him my whole life. The tables could have easily been changed around. If I were Jennifer, I would want every opportunity to learn about my father and remember the great sacrifice he made. I would want a way for his friends to contact me and share with me what he was like so that through their memories I would know him.

Washington, DC: What is the relationship between your org and the Traveling Wall, or Moving Wall, or whatever it's called?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: The Virtual Wall, in collaboration with the VVMF, extends the goal of The Wall in DC, and the goal of the Traveling Wall of that from the Wall that Heals to the Wall that Teaches.

Washington DC: I take it you work for WinStar.

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Yes, I do, and feel very lucky and very honored to work on this project.

Bethesda, MD: Are they still adding names to The Wall?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Actually, the Vietnam Memorial just added a name several weeks ago.

Washington: Has any family member complained to you about privacy issues? Some people might not want strangers writing messages to their departed loved ones. Any problem with that?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: This is a very interesting question and one that many of us have wondered about. We have not received any complaints of this nature. Most of the family members celebrate the honor and love of remembrances and reflections that it brings to their loved ones.

Dallas Texas: How many hits do you get on the web site and how big is the database?

Stan Kroder

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Dear Dallas,

We average about a million hits a month. Initially, most of the remembrances were text based which were very small files. Now we are seeing more photo and graphic remembrances which can be up to about half of a MG so our database is continually growing.

Linton Weeks: Have you thought about developing other similar sites?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Yes, I have. Using the web in this profound way to help us heal as a nation and leave a historical legacy is very important. Perhaps, a Holocaust site and a WWII site would also be very beneficial to our future generation as well.

Rockville, MD: Why do we need so many Vietnam Wall sites? Too confusing.

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: I think we see so many sites because the Vietnam Era was one of the most divisive periods of the 21st Century. We still have much learning and growing to do.

Linton Weeks: Does The Virtual Wall deal with POW-MIA issues?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: We have a discussion area on the Virtual Wall site that some users discuss POW - MIA vets. Many of the remembrances left are from a person that has worn a POW bracelet for a very long time. When we launch the educational site in November we will have a lot of information about POWs.

Linton Weeks: Does the site have any special plans for Memorial Day?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Yes,

We are working on launching anew features for the Virtual Wall where people can request electronic rubbings.

Rockville, MD: What do people who use your site say about the war in Kosovo? Are they for it or against it?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: I would invite you to go the the virtual wall site and enter a discussion area. This area has been very active since Kosovo.

Bethesda, MD: That's an interesting name. Where does Sha-Chelle come from?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Thanks,

It is a combination between Shean and Michelle. My parents could not agree on which name so they made a compromise.

Linton Weeks: We're a little more than half-way through the hour. Send in your questions, folks, and Sha-Chelle will field them. I'm taking a sip of lime-lemonade. I've got a few more questions of my own.

Linton Weeks: Sha-Chelle, you worked on several computer projects in the public schools. Tell us a little bit about them.

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: While I was at Dallas Public Schools I had the opportunity to work on many technology projects. The major ones were building a high-tech TV studio for inner city kids to produce their own multimedia videos, a multimedia/internet studio for kids to learn English, several Net Day projects, and also live Internet broadcasts for educators.

Washington DC: Is your company involved in other Internet projects?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Since WinStar is a broadband telecommunications company one of our main missions is to harness the power of telecommunications to improve and enhance people's lives. To find out about our other educational projects you can go to: If you want to find out about our business Internet projects you can go to:

Austin, TX: Hi Sha-Chelle how long did it take you to actually make the virtual wall? Dan Mowery Austin Tx

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: The actual production time took us about six weeks. However, based on our user feedback, we have made many improvements to the site. Also, the technology is constantly changing and so we continually strive to use the best technology to make the site a very enriching experience. We also consider this an ongoing commitment to really creating the best digital legacy for our future.

Dallas, Texas: How is the Viet Nam Memorial Virtual Wall funded-maintained?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: This project is sponsored by WinStar Communications who has a long term commitment to maintain this site.

Linton Weeks: We don't ordinarily let other groups plug their Web sites mid-conversation, but here's a noteworthy item just sent to us from WDC: The website for the 1999 National Memorial Day Concert features a way for veterans to share their thoughts and feelings on the war. You can access the site at The responses will be used in a special ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in mid-June.

Silver Spring, Maryland: I was wondering what both of your opinions were on the recent banning of certain sites by the Australian government, including email. Doesn't it seem more reasonable to take the approach that the US and Canada have done - letting the Internet police itself?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: The best and probably most effective, is as you suggest, that the Internet police itself. It becomes a more difficult question to answer when education is the focus.

Washington DC: Does WinStar also provide financial support to the VVMF?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Most of our support to the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund is using our existing resources to support the mission and educational legacy of the VVMF. We have, under Nate Kantor's ( a member of the VVMF Corporate Council) leadership been one of the sponsor's of the historic tour of the " Traveling Wall" to Belfast.

Linton Weeks: Have you given any thought to sponsoring face-to-face reunions of people who gather together on your Web site?"

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: That is a fantastic idea, and one we should pursue for Veteran's Day of this year.

Linton Weeks: How often do you get to visit the Wall in Washington?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: I have been there about a dozen times, and each time I visit The Wall, like many Americans, it is a profound and moving experience. To be able to touch the names inscribed on the black granite, to be able to see those men, those women, friends, children, and family members grieve, rejoice, and remember is an amazing experience.

Linton Weeks: Here's a question I've asked several of our guests: What is your company doing to prepare for Y2K? What are you doing, personally, to prepare?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Since we are a relatively new company, our broadband telecommunications technology is also very new so we are for the most part prepared. I know this will be an interesting time for many of us on the Net. Do any other audience members have concerns?

Linton Weeks: Do you ever hear from people who were opposed to the Vietnam War? People who are still bitter for one reason or another?

Sha-Chelle Devlin Manning: Since this was a time our country was divided on so many levels, there was and is still much anti-war sentiments. However, The Virtual Wall is about remembering and honoring those that died. It is a way for us to heal and so far, 99.9% of the visitors, regardless of their political or religious views come to remember their fallen loved ones.

Linton Weeks: All right, folks. That concludes another episode of Navigator--Live. Join me next week when my guest will be Bob Hirschfield, an online satirist. He'll be answering your questions about humor on the Internet. Until then...

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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