TOWNSEND — “The Wall That Heals” will be at North Middlesex Regional High School as a show of support for veterans and their families in not just Townsend, but across the region.
“The Wall That Heals” is a traveling replica of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C., organized by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. It seeks to provide veterans who have been unable to cope with the prospect of facing The Wall the strength and courage to do so within their own communities, allowing the healing process to begin. It will be open 24 hours a day from Thursday, July 1 until Sunday, July 4 at 2 p.m.
“It’s a smaller exact replica of what’s in Washington and if you would stand back in Washington and look at the overall wall, how it’s laid out, how the grounds are laid out, this one is portrayed the same way,” Russell Jobe, past state commander for the Department of Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars, said. “No fanfare, no flags, no twirling clowns, it’s exactly like it is in Washington.”
Jobe said the effort to bring the wall to Townsend has been two years in the making. It was originally supposed to come last summer but its arrival was canceled one week in advance because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jobe has worked closely with Joe Firmani, the leader of the Fitchburg-based nonprofit Operation Service, on the planning.
Firmani, who helped bring the exhibit to Leominster in 2016 and Fitchburg in 2018, approached Jobe about the idea of bringing it to Townsend.
“Now more than ever after the pandemic, we need this, any town would need this really,” Jobe said.
As to how the exhibit ended up in a smaller community like Townsend, Jobe said it really came down to the community.
“We went forth with passion about why we wanted it and how we were going to do it and we weren’t going to drop the ball,” Jobe said.
The wall will arrive by way of Fort Devens leaving Clear Path for Veterans at 2 p.m., escorted by about 300 motorcycles, State Police motorcycles, a helicopter, and 50 Jeeps from the Massachusetts Wicked Jeeps Club. It will travel into Townsend via Routes 13 and 119, and is scheduled to arrive at the high school by 3 p.m.
An exhibit like this gives veterans an opportunity to experience the wall up close and personal in their local community, when they may not have the means to travel to Washington, D.C.
Jobe said there will be volunteers available at all hours who are prepared to help people process those challenging emotions and in years prior staff from Veterans Affairs have been present for people to seek out, although he could not confirm if they would be present this time.
Betty Mae Tenney, president of VFW Auxiliary to Townsend Post 6538, also spoke to the exhibit’s importance for the town’s veteran population.
“It certainly gives area residents the opportunity to experience the wall because perhaps they have not had the opportunity to see the actual wall in Washington, D.C,” Tenney said. “Particularly if they are a Vietnam Veteran it gets them close to the situation that they perhaps are more comfortable viewing it here in their local surroundings with their family and friends than they are going to D.C. because it is a very moving thing to them.”
In an interview and speaking on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, the board’s Vice Chair Joseph Shank said the exhibit has been described to him as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” At recent board meetings, Shank has described the exhibit as an opportunity for the town to “put its best foot forward.”
“We’re putting our best foot forward in the community to show our gratitude and our appreciation for all veterans of all branches of the service,” Shank said.
Shank said he has had an opportunity to visit the memorial in Washington, D.C., and that it is an “honor” for this to be in town.
Todd Arsenault, chair of the town’s American Flag Committee, confirmed that flags will be out along Main Street in time to greet the wall’s arrival.
“We have a lot of veterans in town and we’re very excited about having it here,” Arsenault said.
The Wall replica was built on a three-quarter scale, standing 7 1/2 feet tall at its highest point and 375 feet in length. As visitors walk toward the apex, they are able to experience the wall rising above them as they would at the memorial in Washington, D.C.
When the trailer carrying the exhibit is parked, it becomes a mobile education center telling the story of the Vietnam War and the divisive era in American history. It also features photographs and information on local heroes.
There will be two ceremonies connected with “The Wall That Heals.” The first is an opening ceremony on Thursday, July 1, at 5 p.m. and it will feature Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services Cheryl Poppe as the keynote speaker. On Saturday, July 3, at 5 p.m. there is a remembrance ceremony complete with a firing squad, taps, and keynote speaker Harold Roesch, commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
Jobe said they are still looking for volunteers; anyone interested can sign up online at https://m.signupgenius.com/#!/showSignUp/10c0c44aaad23a2fbc52-thewall