Derek Volk, left, tells Mike McInnis about a tile of a veteran on the ‘Heroes Wall’ on Friday afternoon in Biddeford. The inspiring tribute to veterans is open 24 hours a day all year long. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Derek Volk never served in the military, yet every day he’s reminded how important the contributions of those who did are by visitors who stop and visit his “Volk Packaging Corporation Heroes Wall” in Biddeford.

Volk, one of the owners of Volk Packaging Corporation in the city’s industrial park, created the tribute to veterans after he and his wife visited Abbot, Maine, where they saw names of veterans from all wars from the town prominently displayed.

“I got out and took pictures and thought, why don’t we have one of these in our town too?” Volk said.

So using a technique similar to a veterans display at Old Port on DiMillo’s Boardwalk in Portland, Volk erected a wall outside Volk Packaging at 11 Morin St. in Biddeford that opened June 6 as a lasting tribute to the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States. The wall is 50 feet long and 7 feet high and features 8.5 by 11 inch granite tiles containing etched photos and detailed information about veterans.

“The wall honors all men and women, living or passed, who have served or currently serve our great country in the Armed Forces.,” Volk said. “Anyone can put their loved one’s face and information on the Heroes Wall.”

The wall is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is a moving experience to see in person.

Volk says that since the wall has opened, he’s had the distinct privilege of speaking with many veterans from throughout the community and family members of those who served.

“Putting up the wall was one thing, but listening to stories visitors tell me about their loved one’s military experiences is so awesome. It’s given such an appreciation for our veterans and what they have done for all of us,” he said. “A woman came to see the wall and thought her husband should be up there, but knew he wouldn’t want his face on the tile. He was flying in a glider over Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and she asked if a photo of a glider could be etched onto the tile, but she didn’t know how to find a photo like that. When I told her I could Google that, she was so thrilled.”

Volk said that another family from the area has 12 tiles of family members on the wall and when it was first unveiled during its dedication ceremony, a man from Biddeford was brought to tears by finding he was standing eye to eye facing his own father’s portrait etched onto a tile.

“You couldn’t have scripted that,” Volk said. “It’s just inspiring to have those families here.”

Mike McInnis, quartermaster for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7997 in Old Orchard Beach, said he visits the wall frequently and believes it’s an incredible tribute to veterans.

“I see how it’s rekindled a sense of pride for the veterans of Biddeford and Saco and their families,” McInnis said. “It’s truly unbelievable. It’s a longtime legacy for our children and grandchildren. These are real American heroes right there before our very eyes.”

Tiles cost $150 and a small portion goes to Get Etched in South Portland to create the tile, with the remaining money donated to the VFW, which uses the money to help community causes.

According to Volk, anyone who wants a tile gets a tile on the wall, no matter if they can afford it or not.

“We have some generous sponsors who will help out with that,” he said. “And anyone can be a sponsor if they choose to.”

To sign up to obtain a tile for a veteran or to become a sponsor, visit http://www.volkboxes.com.

Paul Foran of Saco is not a veteran, but he does have family members enshrined on the wall.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “When I was first told about this, I couldn’t believe it. To see it up close and in person is truly remarkable.”

When the wall was opened in June there were 217 tiles and now there are more than 300, Volk said.

“And we can hold 700 on this wall and there are already plans for another when the space runs out,” he said. “People are out here just about every day and we even had a veteran from Montana come here to see the wall.”

Landry French, Gorham Flag and Capozza Tile assisted with the construction of the wall and the surrounding area and Black Bear Sign helped create a sign pointing to locations around the globe where veterans have served.

“I have always been interested in our veterans and the stories they tell,” Volk said. “I put myself there in their place and can’t begin to imagine what they went through. They have such amazing stories to relate and it’s opportunity to honor these people we can’t pay back. We owe them everything.”

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected] 

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