BONNERS FERRY — With smoke so thick that it obscured the mountains and cast an eerie yellow haze over the town, people still came out, lining the street, some wearing masks. They came out to show their support as The Wall That Heals — a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., that travels to communities throughout the United States — passed through Bonners Ferry on Monday, Sept. 4.
“I think this is wonderful,” said Jeanie Bender. “For this to even go through our town, is an honor.”
The Wall That Heals was unveiled 21 years ago, on Memorial Day, and has since visited more than 400 cities and towns. The spirit behind it is to allow the souls it carries in the form of names to exist among family and friends, bringing those souls home for a brief time.
Veteran Jim Thompson waited with a group in the Safeway parking lot. “We are here to pay our respects to our brothers who didn’t make it back — and to their families,” he said.
“I’m here for the same thing,” said veteran Ben Apo, “out of respect for fellow servicemen and their families. This is also a once in a lifetime thing. I don’t foresee myself ever getting back to Washington D.C. to see the wall, so this is the closest thing I am going to get to it.”
Even though the massive, 250 foot long wall did not stop or set up in Bonners Ferry, that did not stop the people from turning out. Some saluted as the semi truck passed, complete with an entourage of motorcycles and escorted by law enforcement, including Bonners Ferry Police Department, Boundary County Sheriff’s Office, Kootenai Tribal Police, and Idaho State Patrol.
“My love for the country and all those who died in Vietnam,” said Richard Beck, explaining why he chose to stand out in the thick smoke to see the memorial pass through. “I was there — and I’ve been to the wall before- and I think it is an important thing for everybody to see it, and to show support to it as it goes by today.”
There was a long line of motorcycles, showing their support by following the huge semi. One biker, Rick Kohlmeier, waited with his bike for The Wall That Heals. “I am a veteran and I heard they were riding through about 35-40 minutes ago. So I have a motorcycle, so I’m going to ride with them,” he said.
As the line passed, he pulled out behind the contingent, with plans to travel at least as far as Troy, Mont.
“I was up the road just a bit, had my original Vietnam Beret on and used the County Car with the lights, and myself and another veteran stood at attention and saluted until the group had gone by,” explained Michael Meier, Boundary County Director of Emergency Management and Public Information Officer. “Most of the caravan saluted back, many said thank you sir. As a Vietnam Survivor the wall is very difficult for those of us that came home.”
The Wall That Heals aims to bring an opportunity to heal to thousands of veterans who may not have the strength to face The Wall in Washington D.C. In the peace and comfort of their own community, many are able to begin the healing process, by visiting the traveling replica.
For others, the mobile Education Center helps some to remember, and those too young to have experienced the effects of the Vietnam War learn about the history.
“I’m a veteran that served and did six deployments” said Derek Carpenter. “My dad’s a Vietnam vet. I’ve seen the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. and I wanted to see this one too. I never miss an opportunity to respect the sacrifices others have made.”
Carpenter’s wife, Erin Carpenter, and young son, Blake, also attended.
“Once in a lifetime thing- you can’t miss out on this,” said Erin Carpenter. “We thought the four year old would love the motorcycles.”
Young and old, Veterans and civilians, all stood side by side to honor everything that The Wall That Heals represented, as it made its journey through Bonners Ferry, on the way to Kalispell, Mont., on the smoke filled Labor Day.
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For more information: http://www.vvmf.org/twth