GARDINER — For more than 10 months, a group of volunteers has been working for one goal: to bring the Wall that Heals on the Gardiner Common.

On Tuesday, the three-quarter size replica of the Vietnam Memorial arrives in central Maine and will be set up in the Gardiner Common, where organizers expect anywhere from 9,000 to 15,000 people from around the state to visit during the four days it will be standing, starting Thursday.

“We have had tremendous outpouring from all the local businesses,” Billie Ellis said.

Ellis has been working with a group of local volunteers and Christ Church in Gardiner to bring the Wall that Heals to Maine.

“The planning part is pretty well done,” Hank McIntyre, one of the project coordinators said. “It’s the execution now.”

The kernel of the idea got its start last year when Robert Egloff, Ellis’s husband, decided he wanted to volunteer to read names of soldiers killed in Vietnam at the 35th anniversary of the Wall in Washington, D.C., and he found information about the Wall that Heals online.

With seed money in a bequest that Dewy and Joyce Gray had left to Christ Church, the organizers set about raising about $18,000 to cover the costs of putting on the multi-day event and promoting it.

This photo taken March 1 shows the Wall that Heals in Portland, Texas.

“This is brought to us by the local little guys,” Ellis said. “It’s the mom-and-pops businesses and the people who really have a connection with it. It was their dads, their brothers and sisters who were in Vietnam. This touches everybody.”

A Mobile Education Center that accompanies the Wall that Heals on its annual stops will be set up as well as two exhibits that highlight the epidemic of suicide among veterans — the Silhouette Project organized by Linda Lajoie of Gardiner, who lost her own son to suicide, and Mission 22 which, among other things, raises awareness about veterans’ suicide.

Representatives from Wreaths Across America will also be on hand.

While the wall is standing, Christ Church is expected to be open, for people to spend time resting or reflecting in the sanctuary, and the church will run “The Vietnam War,” the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary continuously.

The Wall that Heals is just one of the replica walls that travels across the country each year. At least three other organizations have versions that are displayed in locations across the country each year.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund supports the Wall that Heals and its mobile Education Center.

Tim Tetz, site manager for the Wall that Heals, said the number of requests to host the wall as well as people traveling to see the wall has been on the rise.

“We’ve got a couple of things going on,” Tetz said. “It’s the 50th anniversary of 1968. That when we started paying attention to the war, and it was the bloodiest year of the war.”

That was the year that troop numbers peaked, and it was the most expensive year of the war, he said. It was also the year when the war came to the forefront of public awareness.

The wall, which will be escorted from the VA Maine Medical Center — Togus on Tuesday by groups like Rolling Thunder as well as the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the Gardiner Police Department starting at 4 p.m., is expected to span the Common, from the north end near Christ Church along the pathway to the southern end near St. Joseph’s Church.

A series of events have been scheduled, including an opening ceremony Wednesday and an inter-faith church service on Sunday before the wall leaves.

Each night starting at 7:30 p.m., volunteers will read the names of the 341 men from Maine who were killed in the war. Thirty-one of them were from Kennebec County and six were from Gardiner.

Tetz said photos of the soldiers from Kennebec and surrounding counties who are listed on the wall will be displayed in a continuous loop in the Mobile Education Center.

McIntyre said transportation will be on hand for veterans who might want to talk to someone.

“It can stir up some emotions,” he said.

Deb Couture, of West Gardiner, is one of about 100 volunteers who has signed up to take shifts while the Wall that Heals is in Gardiner, and she’ll take part in the training that Tetz will do before the opening ceremony.

“I’m retired from the Navy, and I am a member of the American Legion Smith-Wiley Post 4 and the VFW,” Couture said, referring the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “I think it’s important to the Vietnam vets. They were never appropriately thanked for their service.”

Volunteers will be on hand to make sure that people behave respectfully at the wall, to hand out water and help people make rubbings of names from the wall. Others will drive shuttle buses in from the American Legion and Laura E. Richards School where remote parking lots have been set up to handle parking.

The organizers say families are expected to come during the day, but they have been advised that veterans seeking time for reflection and healing are likely to come at night.

Ellis said Saturday has been reserved as a day of reflection, with no scheduled events other than the reading of the names in the evening.


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