This unprecedented amount of funds was raised during the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall’s appearance in Penndel last summer
By Samantha Bambino
Last summer, more than 25,000 people gazed upon the 6-foot-tall, 300-foot-long Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall that was erected in Penndel from July 14–16, 2017. During the emotional weekend, friendships were rekindled, memories were reflected upon, and the names of the 136 Bucks County soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam were read.
A 3/5 scale replica of the permanent structure in Washington, D.C., the wall journeys across the country, serving as a reminder of the more than 58,000 sacrifices made during the war. Inscribed upon it are the names of each soldier, giving loved ones who are unable to make the trip to Washington the chance to view it in their hometown.
Securing the Traveling Memorial Wall’s appearance in Penndel was no easy feat, and someone who understands this firsthand is resident Ed Preston. Along with other locals determined to make the visit a reality, Preston formed The Wall in Bucks County, a grassroots committee that helped bring their dream to fruition. Though committee members were the ones on the front lines promoting the project and organizing details, Preston stressed that nothing would’ve happened without the support of the community.
“The businesses and individuals who donated money to The Wall in Bucks County all did so with the intent of honoring Vietnam War dead and helping veterans heal, and because so many services were provided at low or no cost, we were able to dramatically reduce our expenses,” he said.
Thanks to the community’s unprecedented support, the committee ended up with an excess of more than $31,000. Naturally, the only option was to donate the money to worthy local and national veterans causes. On Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Bucks County Visitor Center in Bensalem, Preston, with the help of Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, announced the 11 organizations that will receive the funds.
A number of veterans were in attendance, and Preston began the presentation by addressing them with reverence.
“Some of you, when you came home from Vietnam, you weren’t very accepted. You felt discouraged. But I think looking at what I know today and working with a lot of you guys that are in this room, Vietnam vets, it created a generation of the most generous, supportive people that there can be,” Preston said. “You guys always reach your hand out and help somebody and always help a fellow veteran. Always. Without your inspiration, we would not have done what we did.”
Tomlinson shared a similar sentiment, explaining how the Memorial Wall allowed the public to see that Vietnam veterans didn’t cause the war. They were just doing their duty. They were called to fight for freedom and, according to Tomlinson, did just that.
“They should never have blamed the soldier. The soldier didn’t have a choice,” he said. “You did your job. You are a hero. You did the right thing and we stand by you.”
One by one, Preston and Tomlinson then recognized the organizations chosen by the committee, calling up a representative of each. The first to be announced was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, commonly referred to as The Wall, which Preston said holds a special place in his heart. Founded in 1979 by Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs, the memorial is one of the most visited in Washington, D.C., with an estimated 5.6 million annual visitors. The mission of the VVMF is to honor and preserve the legacy of service and educate all generations about the impact of the war. The Wall in Bucks County sent the VVMF a donation in memory of the 136 Bucks County veterans who died in the war.
Recipients also included Megan’s Foundation, which offers weekly yoga classes in Bristol, Doylestown and Newtown for veterans and active duty military; Shamrock Reins, which helps soldiers reintegrate back into civilian life; Disabled American Veterans of the Vietnam Memorial Chapter №85, an organization whose mission is to find and help any veterans in need; The Veterans Group, which provides housing, food, education and treatment for veterans; Operation Ward 57, which allows healed veterans to serve as caseworkers and help their fellow soldiers overcome PTSD; Jesse Soby American Legion 148, a Langhorne-based post that has raised nearly $200,000 in three years through its annual Veterans Day 5K; Veterans for a Delaware Valley Nursing Home, which serves 171 veterans and their spouses; Delaware Valley Vietnam Veterans, an organization comprised of veterans who wish to help other veterans; and Doylestown Post VFW 167, which supports older WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans living in assisted living centers or nursing homes.
Funds will also be given to the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall for the purchase of two additional panels. The added space will allow the wall to be updated with the names of soldiers whose fates have been determined since its creation.
“It’s the only traveling wall that has all 58,513,” Preston said. “It’s not a lot of money, but I hope it’s enough to make a difference in somebody’s world.”
Once all of the organizations were called, the veterans present received special lapel pins created by the United States Department of Defense as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. In Penndel, the community is already looking ahead to the 100th anniversary. Following the conclusion of the Penndel-Hulmeville Memorial Day Parade earlier this year, a time capsule was buried at the intersection of Hulmeville Avenue and PFC John Dalola Avenue. The capsule contains tributes left behind at the Memorial Wall event, including pictures, a uniform, notes, a Purple Heart, infantry insignia, obituaries, a baby’s pacifier, flowers, flags and MIA bracelets. It will be opened on April 15, 2075, the 100th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com