Wall That Heals arrives in Maine

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CHELSEA — Amy and Sheldon Tozer drove from their home in Winthrop to the Chelsea Town Hall on a rainy Tuesday to join dozens of volunteers to escort the Wall That Heals on the last leg of its trip to Gardiner.

The wall, a scaled-down version of the Washington, D.C., memorial to those killed during the Vietnam War, will be set up Wednesday on the Gardiner Common, and it will be open to the public for four days starting Thursday.

Getting the wall, and the traveling version of the museum that’s expected to be built in the nation’s capital, was the work of Friends of Christ Church, a group of volunteers that spanned months of effort and fundraising across the region.

“I hope people come,” Billie Ellis, one of the organizers said, as she stood in the wet field between the Chelsea Town Hall and the Chelsea Elementary School, where firetrucks from Chelsea, Togus and neighboring communities lined up, waiting to take their place in the escort.

The Tozers are members of the Patriot Riders of America Maine Chapter 2, which, along with chapters across the country, raises money to help veterans who are struggling.

Neither Tozer served in the military — “I have asthma and he’s Canadian,” Amy Tozer said — but they felt it was important to give their time and effort to support the project that’s bringing the wall to Maine. Sheldon Tozer will serve as a volunteer at the wall while it’s here, and Amy Tozer said their family will visit the wall later this week.

They were joined by other Patriot Riders from Maine Chapter 2, such as Bud Love of South Gardiner, who has served more than three decades in the Army National Guard, and chapter President Greg Lozier of Brunswick.

“We do things like this because we honor all our veterans alive and past,” Lozier said. “We have several motorcycles here that have braved the weather to help with the escort, and we’re hoping for more.”

Gardiner is one of more than three dozen stops the mobile memorial will make this year. Most recently, it was in Fitchburg, Massachusetts; and after it leaves, it will head to Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Gary Judkins, a Gardiner native who lives in Sumner, volunteered to bring the trailer up from Franklin, Massachusetts, and deliver it to its destination in his hometown.

Judkins, who served in the Army from 1990 to 1992, said he agreed to the bring the trailer even before he knew where it was going.

Evelyn Bowie, who lives in Augusta, saw the truck’s procession through the Togus campus, where she works, and decided to follow it down to Gardiner. She said it’s important for her to see the wall because she is a veteran. She served in the Navy for nine years and retired from the reserves in 2011. 

David Beaulieu of Gardiner watched the crowd Tuesday at the Common. He said he plans to return Wednesday to help assemble the wall.

“I belong to the American Legion here,” he said. “I am a Vietnam-era vet. I wasn’t actually over there. I was in Alaska.”

Christ Church will be open for those who wish to pray or reflect in the sanctuary. The church also is presenting the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary “The Vietnam War” while the wall is in Gardiner.

Wreaths Across America will have a van on site, as will the Vets Center. The Silhouette Project and Mission 22, two projects that call attention to veteran suicide, also will be on the site.

For the duration of the wall’s stay, Dresden Avenue will be closed between Church and School streets.

Gardiner police Chief James Toman said no parking will be allowed along the street across from The Big Apple store on the northwest side of the Common. A special parking lot for handicapped visitors has been set up on School Street at the site of the former O.C. Woodman School.

Visitors are asked not to block fire hydrants, driveways or intersections.

A shuttle service has been set up to run Friday and Saturday to the Common from Laura E. Richards School on Brunswick Avenue and Smith-Wiley American Legion Post 4 on Griffin Street, he said.

Veterans Administration employees wave Tuesday at firetrucks escorting a tractor-trailer hauling The Wall that Heals as it passes through the the VA Maine Health Care System’s Togus campus on its way to Gardiner, where the Vietnam War memorial wall replica will be displayed until Sunday. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal)

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