The newly-dedicated Veterans Freedom Mural adds color and words of thanks to service members at the corner of 9th and Washington Sts. in Wilmington.
The mural titled, “Getting Back to the World,” decorates the north wall of Marcella’s House, a building that houses 15 formerly homeless veterans. It’s run by Connections Community Support Programs.
The image depicts two soldiers; an older veteran welcoming home a 9/11 veteran, presumably, positioned in front of a globe. So inspired by their personal stories, lead artist Eric Okdeh used excerpts from conversations he had had with veterans earlier this year in the final design.
“Public art has more potential than just being an image on the wall,” said Okdeh at the mural’s official dedication on Tuesday morning. “Public art sits at the nexus of so much community-building, and organization, catharsis and healing – there’s so many things that converge around public art.”
In a statement, he said that, “This public project seeks to provide a voice to veterans as they share guidance with those returning from service and those struggling with their transition back into the community.”
Rev. TC Davis was one of those veterans whose story made it in the mural. The Vietnam veteran shared his poem, “A Piece of Peace,” at the dedication.
“When a diver goes deep, he comes up slowly or explodes. I moved to Miami which mirrored the ‘Nam. Hot, humid, sauteed in adrenaline. It was harder to leave the deep than I had imagined. But on the way up I fell into silence with some Quakers and found some solace there. A piece of peace,” Davis read.
The retired pastor also founded the Interfaith Veterans’ Workgroup, a Wilmington-based organization designed to help veterans readjust to life after the military through service projects, like the Veterans Freedom Mural. Davis said the community service provides that camaraderie and teamwork veterans often miss after leaving the service.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell described during his remarks how “powerful,” the mural is, “Sometimes you look at a mural like this and then you just have to be silent and keep looking, and you keep finding new things.”
Pointing out one part of the mural that includes the line, “Thank you for your service,” Markell said more important than the words are the actions taken to demonstrate that the thanks are real.
“It is a travesty that after what our veterans go through that they could come home and not have a place to live. And so last year we made the pledge to end veteran homelessness in Delaware,” Markell said.
Partnering with the Delaware State Housing Authority, the Dept. of Health and Social Services and other local and federal partners, the statewide initiative was able to house all but four of Delaware’s 282 identified homeless vets.
Markell also highlighted that the state has cut veteran unemployment by half. Progress that he said was significantly better when compared with surrounding states and across the country.
“I’m appreciative that Wilmington’s Creative District and everyone involved with this mural has recognized how truly great it is to increase civic involvement and transform our communities for the better,” said Gen. Frank Vavala, Adjutant General of the 2,700-member Delaware National Guard. “Roughly only 7/10 of 1 percent of the population ends up serving in our military. So we’re honoring a segment of our community. So few individuals choose to sacrifice for so many and we’re honoring them with this mural.”
“Getting Back to the World” is the inaugural project for Wilmington’s Public Art Prep Program (PAPP), a first-of-its-kind free public art training program. Creative District Wilmington and Connections CSP developed PAPP as an opportunity for local artists to learn new skills and engage their communities.
WHYY aired a story on “First,” about the Veterans Freedom Mural and Davis’ Interfaith Veterans’ Workgroup in May. You can watch that story below.