Massive Vietnam Veterans Memorial replica coming to Blackfoot
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BLACKFOOT — ‘The Wall That Heals,’ a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., is coming to eastern Idaho.
Spanning 375 feet in length and standing 7-1/2 feet tall, the wall is approximately three-quarters the size of the original.
Vietnam veteran and Idahoan Fred Saunders and his wife Penny first saw the traveling The Wall That Heals decades ago in Arizona. They knew they had to find a way to bring the exhibit to their hometown of Blackfoot.
“I’m hoping that the folks that come and visit go away with the knowledge of what really happened over there, and I hope the veterans that come get healed,” Fred said in a news release.
The exhibit will be taken on a parade through eastern Idaho at 3 p.m. on Sept. 14. Starting at Freeman Park in Idaho Falls, a semi-truck will haul the replica while being escorted by members of several veteran motorcycle clubs, as well as troopers from the Idaho State Police. The parade ends at Jensen Grove Park in Blackfoot.
It will then be set up and be opened to public viewing beginning at midnight on Sept. 16. The replica will be open 24 hours until the closing ceremony at 1:45 p.m. on Sept. 19.
The replica is owned by the Veterans Memorial Fund, a non-profit organization that partners with the National Parks Service to maintain the original memorial. Getting the replica to a location requires support from local, state and congressional elected officials. Fred and Penny rallied that supprt, along the way forming a committee, Blackfoot The Wall That Heals, with the assistance of former Blackfoot mayor Scott Reese and his wife Cindy.
After having their application approved, that is when Fred and Penny “started having issues,” according to committee spokeswoman Corinne Dionisio.
“They needed funding, they needed at least $10,000,” Dionisio told EastIdahoNews.com. “They were taking little donation cans to businesses throughout Blackfoot. They were getting some donations, but it was kinda trickling in.”
“I took (donation) cans to every place,” Penny said in the release. “We really wanted the wall to come because we’re amazed every time we see it, it’s just amazing.”
It wasn’t until Bingham Memorial Hospital and Idaho Central Credit Union got involved, donating $5,000 each, that this visit became a real possibility, Dionisio said.
But the visit hit another snag one year ago when the scheduled trip was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the option to either cancel the visit or reschedule, Fred and Penny chose to reschedule.
Now, the replica will soon be en route, and the schedule is in place.
Along with open viewing, which will be free to the public, the schedule includes a ceremony, with a speech from Major General Michael Garshak of the Idaho National Guard at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 16. The following morning, a Vietnam veteran breakfast will be held. The breakfast is free to all Vietnam veterans and their families, from 7 to 9 a.m.
The monument replica also includes an Education Center, displaying hometown heroes — service members killed in action representing Bannock, Bingham, Blaine, Bonneville, Butte, Caribou, Jefferson and Power counties. A Memory Honor Roll, featuring the names of local service members who survived the war but have since died, will also be included.
Getting approval to host exhibit in Blackfoot was a community effort, Dionisio said.
“There is so many people in the community that have really stepped up, and not just in terms of donating funds but time and talent. It really has been amazing.”
Volunteers are still needed, both as hosts and parking lot attendants, while the replica memorial is held in Blackfoot. Those interest can sign up here. Learn more about The Wall That Heals and Blackfoot The Wall That Heals Committee here.