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Honoring our heroes

Bucks veterans will be honored in a special tribute featuring the Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

When veterans of the Vietnam War returned from battle, the welcome they received was far from glorious. Many civilians blamed the war on the soldiers, and viewed them as evil rather than normal men sent to do a job. Thankfully, the country’s attitude has changed over the years and steps have been taken to give these heroes the honor they deserve. From July 14–16, Bucks County will host its own tribute to local veterans featuring the 300-foot long Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall.

A special salute: The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is coming to Bucks County July 14–16 and will be the centerpiece of a tribute to thousands of veterans killed and missing in action from Bucks County and throughout the Delaware Valley. PHOTO: Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall

The idea for a tribute to honor Bucks County Vietnam veterans has been brewing for some time. After seeing a Korean War memorial more than 10 years ago, Ed Preston, chairman of the Penndel-Hulmeville Memorial Day Parade, knew he wanted to do something special.

“All of the wars were important, but Vietnam was the most horrific,” Preston said. “Society blamed the soldiers, but they don’t make the decisions.”

As an active member of the Langhorne Manor community, Preston was able to persuade many locals to come on board for the project. Planning has been in the works for more than a year, and the effort is 100 percent volunteer-based, with both military veterans and civilians involved to bring different perspectives to the table. A subcommittee of 13 members was formed from the Penndel-Hulmeville Memorial Day Parade committee to focus solely on the wall.

It took about a year and a half just to secure a date for the wall, which stretches to the length of a football field. At first, the idea was to keep the project local and focus on the 11 soldiers who didn’t return from Langhorne Manor. But soon, Preston received support from Hulmeville, Langhorne and Penndel, which was extremely accommodating and offered up the Penndel Memorial Ball Field on PFC John Dalola Avenue as the wall’s location. This spot is fitting since John Dalola was the borough’s only casualty of the Vietnam War.

While there are multiple replicas of the official memorial in Washington, the one that will soon reach Bucks County is the most substantial in size at 300 feet from end to end and six feet tall at the center, with 58,307 names inscribed on its surface. The wall will arrive on July 12 from Florida in a trailer escorted by Warriors Watch, an organization founded several years ago to bring soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan, Rolling Thunder and various motorcycle groups. A welcome parade will take place with police and fire companies joining the procession.

“The schools will be out by then, too, so we’ll make a party out of it,” Preston said.

The wall will arrive in separate panels, and more than 100 Parx Casino volunteers will assemble it on July 13. According to Preston, Parx has been a great partner since the beginning of the project, allowing the committee to hold group meetings at the casino and reaching out to other organizations to get involved.

The official start of the tribute will be at 8:30 a.m. July 14 with opening remarks by retired U.S. Army Capt. David Christian, the most decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, and Patrick J. Murphy, an Iraq War veteran who is a former under secretary of the U.S. Army and former member of the United States House of Representatives. A twilight ceremony will take place the evening of July 15 to recognize the 136 soldiers from various communities across Bucks County who didn’t come home.

“It will be the highlight of the weekend,” Preston said. “It will be an all-inspiring, powerful moment.”

The final closing ceremony will be held on July 16 with a speech from Preston and a flag ceremony by the mayors of the four boroughs involved in the project — Langhorne, Langhorne Manor, Penndel and Hulmeville. Throughout the length of the wall’s visit from 9 a.m. July 14 through the closing ceremony July 16, all 58,307 names will be read continuously by volunteers. Though the ceremonies typically take place from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., the space will be accessible 24 hours a day for those who wish to pay their respects.

More than 200 local veterans are slated to be in attendance, and Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County is working to make sure these heroes are comfortable throughout the long and emotional weekend. Using inventory borrowed from its ReStore location in the Langhorne Square shopping center, Habitat Bucks will furnish a comfortable, living room environment. Veterans in need of a quiet space will be able to rest at any time during their visit to the wall.

“A central part of the mission of Habitat for Humanity and ReStore is about the community coming together to help those in need,” said Florence Kawoczka, executive director for Habitat Bucks. “We’re honored to be able to fulfill the important function of providing a peaceful place for veterans amidst the emotions that can accompany a visit to the wall.” ••

Volunteers to assist throughout the weekend are still needed. Those interested can contact Ed Preston at thewall@p-hmemorialparade.org.

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