Fred and Penny Saunders bring ‘the wall that heals’ to blackfoot, idaho
by Corinne Dionisio
Aug. 1, 2021
BLACKFOOT, IDAHO — The Wall That Heals (TWTH), a Washington, D.C. Vietnam Memorial scale replica, will visit Jensen Grove Sept. 16-19. The event is meant to honor Vietnam Veterans that paid the ultimate sacrifice while allowing their surviving loved ones and surviving veterans to heal from their losses within the familiarity of their own community. Admission will be free to the public thanks to local sponsors.
TWTH project was initiated by Fred Saunders, a retired Air Force Veteran and his wife Penny Saunders. During the Vietnam conflict, Fred’s unit refueled planes flying in and out of Vietnam combat zones and was stationed throughout Southeast Asia. His time in service was grueling but also imbued him with gratitude for his fellow veterans. As for Penny, she too learned similar lessons as she supported Fred’s career. Sometimes this meant moving to Japan with their first newborn or driving across the U.S. by herself with five children and an assortment of pets. After Fred’s time in the service ended, The Saunders family moved back to Idaho but continued to find ways to serve their community and honor our veterans.
Fred and Penny first came across TWTH a few decades ago while they were spending time in Quartzsite, Ariz. Their experience led them to visit the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They were astonished to realize that TWTH was an almost exact replica and both experiences left a meaningful impression on them. Then in 2019, Fred and Penny had to visit Fort Sam Houston Cemetery to bury a close Army friend. While they were there, they unexpectedly got to experience TWTH yet again. At that point they knew they had to find a way to bring the experience home to Idaho.
The couple put together all the needed paperwork for the project – which included gathering support from local, state, and congressional leadership. However, one of their first major challenges was securing adequate funding. Penny recalls, “I took (donation) cans to every place, and they didn’t believe that we wanted to get the wall because you know … we were really naïve … but we really wanted the wall to come because we’re amazed every time we see it, it’s just amazing.” It was around the time Fred and Penny were trying to collect donations that Cindy Reese and Scott Reese, the former mayor of Blackfoot, heard about what they were trying to accomplish. They offered to help and quickly assembled a committee of dedicated talent, supportive city resources and leadership, and gracious community sponsors like Bingham Memorial Hospital, Idaho Central Credit Union, Alsco and Bank of Idaho among many others.
Even then, the event ran into COVID-19 related obstacles that led to a 2020 postponement of the event but Fred explains why it has been important to persevere with the project in 2021,
“I’m hoping that when this wall gets here, enough veterans know about it that it helps them get settled down with their PTSD … I’m hoping that the folks that come and visit go away with the knowledge of what really happened over there, and I hope the veterans that come get healed.”
TWTH will be open to the public 24 hours a day except on its last day in Blackfoot when it will be open until 2 p.m. To learn more about TWTH’s arrival escort, speakers, veteran’s breakfast, education center, and volunteering please visit blackfootwallthatheals.org or search Blackfoot Wall That Heals on Facebook.