Escorted by two dozen police officers and veterans on motorcycles, the tractor trailer rolled up to William Penn High Tuesday and passed under a huge American flag.
Two phrases were inscribed on the rig’s side: “The War And The Wall’’ and “The Wall That Heals.” along with a large photo of what was inside.
“That’s just awesome,’’ Frank Cronk mouthed softly as the procession passed him on the school’s front steps and about 100 onlookers cheered and the riders honked their horns. “Very impressive.”
The truck was carrying a three-quarter sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Known as The Wall That Heals, the traveling memorial will be assembled Wednesday at the school in New Castle and the public can visit around the clock from Thursday at 9 a.m. until Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is free.
The actual memorial is made of two granite slabs etched with the names of over 58,000 American men and women who died overseas during the Vietnam War that ended in 1975 as well as their date of casualty.
The replica that’s in Delaware through the weekend is constructed of powder-coated aluminum panels that are supported by aluminum frames. It’s 375 feet long and 7.5 feet high at its apex. The traveling wall debuted in 1996 and has been visited by more than 2 million people worldwide. LED lights provide visibility day and night.
John Duffy, a veteran, and William Penn High graduate, was honored to be in the escort party and grateful that the wall has returned to Delaware for the first time since 2016.
“It means a lot, because I know these Vietnam veterans, they were not welcomed home the way they should have been,’’ Duffy said. “So any way I can support them, that’s what I’m doing here.”
Newark resident Bill Jackson, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, was waiting at the school’s entrance to photograph the memorial’s arrival.
An Indiana native, Jackson said some hometown buddies died in Vietnam.
“I lost kids from high school,’’ Jackson said. “And our base was attacked. And there were people that I knew who didn’t survive the attacks. But you know, that’s part of it.”
Jackson will return to William Penn in the coming days.
“I’ll stop by a few times, and stopping by would be to talk to the other vets who show up. We’ve got stories to share. We are a family. It’s the closest brotherhood I’ve ever experienced.”
The traveling wall came to Delaware because of the tenacity of William Penn math teacher Nora Hutchinson.
Hutchinson, who joined one of the motorcyclists on the escort, said she learned about the exhibit during the pandemic.
“I discovered The Wall that Heals and pretty much just said in the times that we’re living in and everything that we’re going through, these kids need a little bit of hope. The community needs a little bit of hope,” Hutchinson said. “So I said, what better thing to do than to bring The Wall That Heals to William Penn?”
Administrators supported her effort and officials at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund that run the exhibit said ‘yes.’
Hutchinson was touched Tuesday when she saw dozens of students on the school’s steps when the wall arrived.
“Seeing all those kids waving the flags. I mean, how much more emotional can it get,’’ she said.
“It’s giving them a little bit of hope and something to stand up for in the world that we live in today.”
Twelfth grader Mehki Ellensworth said he waited after school because a teacher told his class about the exhibit.
“It’s a nice way to remember the fallen and what they’ve done because everybody in this country, even now, like with all the craziness going on like, it’s like something to remember the service they’ve done,’’ Ellsworth said.
One highlight of the wall’s stint at William Penn will be a Saturday night candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. Officials will read the names of local men and women who died in Vietnam and honor them with a 21-gun salute.
William Penn is located at 713 E. Basin Road, New Castle, Delaware, 19720.