BLACKFOOT – Men and women of the armed forces take their duty with pride, even in retirement. A local man, retired Master Sergeant Fred Saunders of the United States Air Force continues to exemplify those traits. His mission: to bring the traveling Vietnam War memorial known as "The Wall that Heals" to Blackfoot.
Saunders, a now-retired father of five and grandfather of 19, is the third generation of five generations of service members in his family. His grandfather, Frank Saunders Sr. started this family tradition and served from 1908 to 1912 in the Navy. After returning home from deployment and settling down, he had a family and named his son Frank Jr.
Frank Jr. served in the navy just as his father had. Frank Jr. then started a family of his own, where he was blessed with a son in Fred Sr. who was named after his Uncle Fred, who passed away as a young child, making Fred Sr. the second Fred Saunders in the family tree. Fred Sr. has four daughters and one son, Fred Saunders Jr. who followed his father's footsteps serving in the US Air Force for nearly 26 years, and is currently working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan. Fred Sr. now has two grandchildren in the armed forces, his granddaughter Shilo Thomas and grandson Taylor Truscott.
Saunders was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War, where he carried out his duties without question. Following the war, Saunders answered calls of duty that sent him to different locations throughout his 20 years in the service.
Since going on the offensive with trying to bring The Wall that Heals to Blackfoot, Saunders has made multiple attempts to reach different political leaders including Governor Little and Representative Mike Simpson. Even more active searching led him to contact the American Legions in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, and Blackfoot to try and get their support. Furthering his effort, Saunders also reached the Veteran's of Foreign Wars (VFW) locations in Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, and Pocatello.
The only response Saunders has received up to this point came from the VFW of Blackfoot who scheduled a meeting with him for Tuesday evening, but unfortunately did not show.
According to Saunders, the wall helps those that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), those who suffer from the feelings of lost loved ones, and those who have survivor's guilt cope with the emotions. He explained that seeing the wall brings a sense of calming reverence over people, service members and civilians alike.
Time is of the essence for Saunders, as his application for the wall to be brought to Blackfoot is due on May 27. Assuming his application gets the support it needs the wall would come to town during 2020. Saunders fears that if the support does not come prior to the deadline, the people of Blackfoot will have to wait for the wall to make its trip around the country in 2021, putting those who served, waiting even longer.
The Wall that Heals is a three-quarter (375 feet) scale replica of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C., standing at seven-and-a-half feet tall at its apex, mimicking the same culminating characteristics of The Wall. Both walls have the names of more than 58,000 men and women who were killed in action, are missing in action, or are prisoners of war. The replica is constructed of Avonite, which is a synthetic granite and is LED lit for those to enjoy day or night. Generally, when the wall is brought to a city for display, it is arranged from Wednesday to Sunday in an area that is calm, large enough to set it up, and willing. Saunders suggests that it be put on display at the veteran's cemetery. Veteran's are recognized when they visit the wall according to Saunders, expressing that the people who served during Vietnam are often asked to take photos with the people who are working at the concessions stands and are added to a memorial.
Saunders has visited The Wall in Washington, D.C. as well as The Wall that Heals in Arizona and Texas. Visiting the wall is no charge to the people, and, moreover, is free to have it brought to the area.