BLACKFOOT — From Idaho Falls to Shelley, through Firth to Blackfoot, people lined the route along Highway 91 Tuesday afternoon as an escort of motorcycles and police and sheriff’s units brought The Wall That Heals to Jensen Grove in Blackfoot.

Firth students were able to leave their classrooms just to see the procession. When it came into Blackfoot, it turned on to Airport Road for the final leg of the trek for the semi hauling a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Boy Scouts had put up around 200 American flags that lined both sides of the road from Teeples Drive to the north to the south end of the park. A few hundred students from Ridge Crest Elementary nearby came out to welcome the procession.

Closer to Teeples Drive, where the crowd was smaller, were Fred and Pennie Saunders, whose perseverance was largely responsible for bringing The Wall That Heals to Blackfoot. Fred — an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War — sat in a wheelchair in the grass behind a curb along the road with a Vietnam vet’s cap perched on his head. Both Fred and Pennie waved American flags.

“It’s happening,” they repeated over and over with smiles on their faces as the time approached for the procession to pass by.

At times, as Fred spoke, tears streamed from his eyes and he choked up from emotion.

The care, the desire, and the length of time they had taken to raise money and push to bring the wall to Blackfoot had come to fruition.

“This was a big job, I couldn’t believe how big it was,” Pennie said. “I put cans in every bar to raise money.”

“We were so naive,” Fred added when he thought about the $10,000 they realized it would take to bring the replica to town.

“But Scott and Cindy (Reese, who headed up the committee that worked to bring in the display) got involved and helped,” Fred recalled. “Bingham (Healthcare) donated $5,000 and then they got Idaho Central Credit Union to donate $5,000 and a whole bunch of other people donated a whole bunch of other money.”

“I’m glad it turned out,” Pennie added.

What was going through their mind as the wall was getting close?

“I think relief,” Fred said. “And it’s really happening.”

The wall was originally scheduled to come to Blackfoot last fall, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought an end to those plans. The planning had begun well before that, which made Tuesday’s arrival more meaningful.

“There was a lot of anticipation at that time, and then it all went on hold until now,” said Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carroll. “So it’s a really emotional moment.”

“When we made that decision to put it on hold, this old warrior started cryin’,” Fred added, “and he’s doing it again,” as tears welled up in his eyes. “I’m not weeping because I’m weak. I’m weeping because I’m happy. Very happy.”

When the truck hauling the trailer carrying the pieces of the wall drove past, tears streamed down Fred’s face.

“My cheeks are wet,” he noted.

“It’s amazing, the outpouring of love that people have for veterans,” Fred said after the procession had passed. “And it’s really heart-rendering. Guys came out of Vietnam and they weren’t welcomed home at all. but now we’re welcoming them home. They’re coming home. We have some veterans that came back and they were mistreated and they retreated and hid.”

“They were spit on, all of that,” Pennie added. “I still don’t know why.”

“I am wonderful now,” Cindy Reese said after a welcome at Jensen Grove. “We’ve been working for a long time for this, and to actually drive up into the park in Idaho Falls and see it parked up there and ready to come and all the motorcycles lining up. It was awesome. This is for Fred.”

{span}The City of Blackfoot will close Jensen Grove to regular recreational activity during the memorial display, including boating, swimming, playground use, skate park, and shelter use during the Wall That Heals display from Thursday at 6 p.m. through the time the display closes Sunday at 2 p.m.{/span}

Volunteers began setting up the wall Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. The wall opened for viewing Thursday at 12:01 a.m. and will be open for viewing around the clock through Sunday, when it will close at 2 p.m.

School visits were scheduled Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A welcome program was set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

A veterans breakfast is planned Friday from 7-9 a.m. There are no events planned Saturday. On Sunday, there will be a prayer service at 1:45 p.m., Taps will be played at 1:55 p.m., with the wall closing at 2 p.m.

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