THARPTOWN - Gray skies hinting at rain didn't stop more than 200 people from turning out for the arrival of the Moving Wall Thursday morning.

A half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Moving Wall brought great fanfare as it traveled through the region to the soccer field at Tharptown. Veterans and observers waving American flags lined the route to cheer on the wall, which was escorted by a large group of motorcycles and police patrol vehicles.

"A lot of people were cheering, saluting us," said Tom Miknich, one of the accompanying motorists.

The monument, which opened at 4 p.m. Thursday, honors the men and women who died while serving in the Vietnam War. It will remain open 24 hours a day through 3 p.m. Monday, at which time disassembly

will begin as it moves on to its next stop.

Motorcycle escort

The Moving Wall arrived in Danville from Interstate 80 around 8 a.m. A gathering of more than 200 motorcyclists met, many with American flags attached to their bike, and led the yellow pickup truck containing the 72 panels etched with the names of fallen soldiers on Routes 54 and 61 through Elysburg, Kulpmont, Mount Carmel Township and Shamokin to Tharptown.

Beth Brittain, an Air Force veteran who served during peace time and participated in the motorcycle ride, was greatly moved by the support of the region.

"Riding through Kulpmont and seeing the veterans saluting brought tears to my eyes," said Brittain. "It shows that they remember."

Team assembles panels

By 9:15 a.m. the Wall and its entourage had arrived at its destination, where a group of additional volunteers was waiting. The motorcyclists and volunteers quickly set to work assembling the monument. The panels were taken from the truck, carried by two volunteers and set into the grooved slots lined with a camouflage-print protective material.

"They're not bad at all," said Miknich, carrying one side of panel 29E and 30E. "They get lighter as they get smaller."

By 10 a.m., the first panels were being held in place while a brace was added to the back, secured by one person who adjusted the bracket to make the panel level. Another person used a sledge hammer to drive a stake through a loop in the bracket, anchoring it to the ground. Volunteers followed with soft rags, wiping the shiny, smooth surface clean of fingerprints and smudges.

Large images of The Three Soldiers and Vietnam Women's Memorial were set up in locations relative to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Small American flags line the spectator walkway and others fly over the field.

'So worth it'

Coffee and pastries were provided to the volunteers. Many needed the caffeine after the early ride.

Lauren Silverbrand, of Milford, said she left her house at 5:15 a.m. to join the Warriors' Watch Riders in providing escort services.

"It's so worth it," said Silverbrand. "It's nothing compared to what they've been through."

Silverbrand said she was passionate about honoring veterans, especially Vietnam veterans, partially because her son fought and was awarded a Purple Heart for service in Afghanistan.

"I use my vacation days for this kind of stuff," said Silverbrand.

Lt. Rob Kishbaugh, a correctional officer at SCI-Coal Township and a rider with Pride MC Coal Township, helped organize the riders who met in Danville.

Kishbaugh said that while 90 percent of the officers he works with are veterans, his involvement with veterans is more because he's a patriotic American.

"It's support for the people that defend us," said Kishbaugh.

Brittain thought bringing The Moving Wall to the region was important because it could be used as a learning tool for children who might be unfamiliar with the Vietnam War.

"This is our history, and kids don't know our history," said Brittain. Her own children are grown but she thought they would visit the wall this weekend.

Area schools, including Shamokin Area Elementary, have plans to visit the memorial.

By 11 a.m., The Moving Wall had almost completely taken shape.

800 visit in 4 hours

Sol Bidding, of Coal Township, a key local organizer of the event, said he was pleased with the turnout. By about 8:15 Thursday evening, more than 800 people had already visited the wall, with tens of thousands expected through Monday.

Garth Hall, a volunteer who also has been involved with bringing the wall to Coal Township, a process that took more than 2 1/2 years, said Thursday morning he was pleased with the public's support of the project, especially the monetary donations.

"We can be proud of that," he said.

If you go:

The Moving Wall opened for visitors 4 p.m. Thursday and will be available for viewing 24 hours a day until 3 p.m. Monday.

A special service will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Parking in the area is limited, so visitors are encouraged to use the free shuttle service that will pick up riders at Weis Markets in Shamokin every hour from noon to 9 p.m. May 30 and June 1 and 2.