SIDNEY – When the Shelby County Historical Society exhibits the AVTT-TWF Traveling Wall, a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 16-19, and a field of crosses, Sept. 12-19, in Custenborder Park, 449 Riverside Drive, Sidney, it will be volunteers who make the event possible.
SCHS Director Tilda Phlipot estimates that the project, which includes not only the exhibits, but also a memorial flame, a motorcycle escort, public speakers, school tours, band concerts, a car show, daily prayers on site, and a bench dedication, has had the support of almost 1,000 volunteers.
“It’s incredible to think of how many people have helped to get this all ready,” she said.
One of those volunteers is Mark Harrod, of Lakeview. He has been responsible for coordinating a motorcycle escort of the truck in which the replica wall travels. Any motorcyclist may participate on Sept. 15 by meeting the truck at the Wapakoneta VFW 8445, 712 Dixie Highway, at 5:30 p.m. The escort will travel 22 miles along County Road 25A to Sidney.
“All two- and three-wheel motorcycles are welcome,” Harrod said. “For safety reasons, four-wheel vehicles will not be allowed.”
Residents along the route are invited to cheer on the escort as it passes. In Sidney, it will circle the courtsquare before continuing to Custenborder Park, where the wall will be erected the next day.
This is the third time the historical society has exhibited the wall. Harrod said that he does not know how many bikers participated in the past or how many to expect this year.
“But I was always the last bike. The Sidney cops would call me when the first ones got (to Sidney). They were there, and I was still sitting there (in Wapakoneta) with my kickstand down (waiting to be last in line). That’s a lot of bikes,” he said.
Another volunteer is Chris Wooddell, of rural Sidney, who coordinates an annual car show in Tawawa Park, 12 Tawawa Drive, Sidney. This year’s show will be in conjunction with the wall exhibit.
“That makes it a little more special,” Wooddell said. It is scheduled for Sept. 18 from noon to 4 p.m. Registration begins at 10 a.m. Dash plaques will be awarded to the first 100 registrants and goody bags will be given to the first 150.
“And we have door prizes,” Wooddell said.
Past shows have attracted 225-250 cars. In addition to cars from all eras to look at, visitors can take rides in Model T Fords. The route goes across a covered bridge in the park. Food trucks will also be at the site.
“There’s no better location for a cruise-in. Duane Gaier (of the city Parks Department) has really helped us make this a success for the last four years,” Wooddell said. Following the car show, owners are invited to cruise through Sidney from 5 to 8 p.m.
“A lot of people park on the courtsquare, get something to eat, and watch the cars,” he said.
Other volunteers have built and painted 1,000 crosses for the exhibit, assisted in tracking down the names of almost 7,500 Americans who have died in service since 1975, prepared speeches for school groups and the public, and signed up to install and man the exhibits so they can be open 24 hours per day from when they are erected to 3 p.m., Sept. 19, when the event ends.
Some of those volunteers have been involved all three times the historical society has presented the wall in Sidney.
Rich Wallace, an officer of the SCHS Board of Trustees and a long-time volunteer, expressed why it is important to give area residents another chance to see it.
“It is common human behavior for us to forget the bad experiences in our lives. Some things we must always remember, however,” he said. “There are lessons we must not forget. Right after the Civil War, Union General John Logan drafted orders establishing Memorial Day. His order stated in part, ‘Let our actions testify to the present (and) the coming generations that we have not forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic.’ As Americans, we are compelled to remember the sacrifices of the men who fought and died in the Vietnam Conflict. There are thousands of soldiers missing in action. Bringing the wall to our community is a remembrance and a history lesson. We must never forget.”
He also, on behalf of the board, recognized the contribution being made by the many volunteers.
“The thousand or so volunteers who will help out during the time the wall remains here is not a tribute to the historical society but a reflection of the character of our community. We will never forget,” he said.
All events are free and open to the public. See the sidebar for a complete schedule. For information about any event, to volunteer or to schedule a school tour, call 937-498-1653.