(April 30, 2021) More than 5,000 people visited the “Wall That Heals” last week at the Worcester County Veterans Memorial in Ocean Pines.
The nearly 400-foot-long wall is a replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and bears the names of 58,276 U.S. service members who perished during the conflict.
The traveling exhibit – which rarely, if ever, makes an appearance in Maryland – rolled into the community last Tuesday on a 53-foot trailer escorted by local law enforcement and a motorcycle motorcade of more than 200. Many of those riders represented groups like Hogs for Heroes, the American Legion, and the U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club.
It took about 60 volunteers to help put up the exhibit on Wednesday. Over four days, roughly 300 volunteers staffed the wall, which stayed open 24 hours a day from April 22-25.
Hundreds of local people attended a pair of ceremonies, including a welcome ceremony on Thursday and a candlelight vigil on Friday, the latter of which drew an estimated crowd of 600.
Then, by Sunday night, the volunteer crew had packed up the exhibit so it could travel to its next destination, in Grundy, Virginia.
Worcester County Veterans Memorial Foundation President Marie Gilmore oversaw planning of the event with a committee of about 20 people.
Speaking on Monday morning, she said, “I give full credit for a successful event to the planning team that made me look good. They all did a wonderful job with their assigned tasks.”
Gilmore said the most memorable part of the event, for her, was seeing the entire community come together with gratitude and reflection.
“The Vietnam veterans that I spoke with, many of them in tears, were just so grateful that we brought the wall to their community, because they felt as though they could not go to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “When the wall was brought right here, they gave it a go and they were able to touch the wall and say goodbye to the comrades that they had lost.
“Some of the stories of the Vietnam veterans were just so incredibly touching,” she continued. “They were standing side by side and their friends that they had maybe just met a year or less ago, now that friend is suddenly gone. And they were scared, and these are the scars that they carry with them.”
According to the official The Wall That Heals program, the average age of service members on the wall is 22 years and 9 months. The youngest was just 15.
“They were able to approach the wall and touch the names, and it just gave them some closure,” Gilmore said. “They were just so grateful for the opportunity to do that, and there were so many, many of those stories.”
She said the Veterans Memorial Foundation faced an uphill battle in bringing the exhibit to Ocean Pines.
“I knew that it didn’t travel in the state of Maryland, and I wished that it did,” she said. “And then I saw it two years ago in Ocean View, Delaware, and from the moment that I saw it in Ocean View, I knew that we had to have it in our community.”
Gilmore then contacted the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which runs the exhibit.
“They told me, ‘We’re very familiar with your memorial down in Ocean Pines. Many of us have visited that memorial and we think it’s one of the best memorials that we’ve seen in the country. Why don’t you just apply, and we’ll make a decision.’” she said.
The Veterans Memorial Foundation sent the application by the May deadline, but foundation members had to hold their breath until the following November to receive the official word.
“They said that they had made a unanimous decision to bring [The Wall That Heals] to the Eastern Shore,” Gilmore said. “And we’ve been essentially working on the plan ever since.”
Despite seeing the exhibit in person before, Gilmore didn’t feel the full impact until she saw it again, stretched out across the field of Veterans Memorial Park in Ocean Pines.
“It’s so humbling to realize the sheer numbers – 58,276 names on that wall,” she said. “Each one is somebody’s father, brother, or sister.” There are eight women on the wall.
“It’s a very humbling experience and the Veterans Memorial Foundation is just so grateful that we had the opportunity to bring this to our community,” Gilmore continued. “To see the number of volunteers from our community and the surrounding area – we had people whose children came down to help. We had many, many volunteers from Delaware who came to help. They all wanted to be part of this historic event, and every one of them thanked us for giving them the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Gilmore said the community also stepped up with needed financial support.
“The businesses and, most importantly a lot of the citizens of Ocean Pines, they all were so generous and that gave us the ability to do this and to do it in the right way,” she said. “The whole experience was just so wonderful, it’s hard to even put it into words.
“This was something that the foundation wanted, and to see it all come together and to see the reaction from the community – and how much it meant to each and every person that was there – it was just a great thing to have been a part of. I really, truly am humbled,” she added.
Gilmore said the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was also pleased with the event.
“They told me they thought our event was one of the best organized and had the most volunteers. They were absolutely shocked that, every day, no matter what time it was, they looked around and they saw all those bright green shirts,” she said.
She said the group also complimented Ocean Pines’ Public Works Department.
“They were right there every single day, and they provided support for the last several months preparing the site with electricity and with paved areas,” she said.
Public Works even helped pry The Wall That Heals trailer from the mud, after it got stuck while trying to leave Ocean Pines on Sunday.
“It took about an hour and a half to get the truck out, because it got stuck in the mud after all the rain,” Gilmore said. “They had three tractors in a convoy all strapped together, getting the truck out. It was quite a scene!”
Public Works Director Eddie Wells said it was all in a day’s work, and his entire team was just grateful to play their part.
“All my guys think the veterans memorial is one of the best things Ocean Pines ever did. We’re just honored to be able to help with such a great event,” he said.
Along with a few muddy tire prints, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will also gift the Worcester County Veterans Memorial Foundation with a lasting token of the visit.
“In the month of May or June, they will be retiring a panel off of the wall because they have to make changes … and they would like to present us with the retired panel because of the experience that they had here in Ocean Pines,” Gilmore said. “We will put it in the place of honor.
“They know how much this wall means to the community, so now we will always have a permanent piece of this wall,” she added.
Gilmore wanted to thank local law enforcement including Ocean Pines Police, the Worcester and Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police, as well as the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department, and the following local people, businesses and organizations:
The Wall That Heals Planning Committee:
Mary Adair, Frank Bolen, Jennifer Cropper-Rines, Josh Davis, Todd Dundore, Judy Giffin, Steve Howse, Ken Ingram, Trish Masterson, Don and Tim McMullen, Carrie Morrison, Sharyn O’Hare, Susan Pantone, Larry Perrone, Linda Shanahan, Jim Spicknall, Tom Terry, Bob Thompson and Eddie Wells
Platinum: American Legion Auxiliary Unit 166; American Legion Post 166, Ocean City; Choptank Electric Cooperative; Mediacom Communications Corp.; and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1091, Ocean City
Gold: American Legion Post 123, Berlin; and Coastal Association of Realtors
Silver: American Legion Post 16, Crisfield; Atlantic General Hospital; Berkshire Hathaway PenFed Realty; Bernie Flax and family; Chesapeake Utilities; Creative Concepts of Bethany, Inc.; Ocean City Lions Club; Ocean Downs Casino; Ocean Pines Association; Pathfinder 160th 101st Airborne; and 101.1FM That’s Country
Bronze: Bill and Nancy Rakow; Brennan Title; Delmarva Veteran Builders; Herl’s Bath and Tile Solutions; Joanne Breedlove; Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce; and TidalHealth