It begins with the American Indians, the image of a proud Cherokee chief.
A few feet later, the picture changes, morphing to tell the story of the American Revolution. By the end of its 100 feet, the Wall has unfolded a timeline of America’s wars, its darkest days and greatest victories, its towering heroes and martyrs for the cause of freedom.
“The Spirit of America’s Story — The Wall” is the vision of Ronald Smith and Patricia Sexton, partners in a Sandusky-based trucking business. Their day job is hauling heavy cargo for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Their passion is the traveling exhibit, launched on Veterans Day 2015. The Wall — shortened to 70 feet to fit — was set up Thursday in the north gym at Amherst Steele High School, where first students and then the public could read its 240-year-long tale of bravery and sacrifice.
For both Smith and Sexton, it is a personal history.
He, a Marine Corps veteran of 13 years, served in the Persian Gulf and Desert Storm. She is the wife of Army Sgt. David Sexton, killed in March 1971 in Vietnam. David’s remains have never been returned to the United States for proper burial.
The homage to military personnel (and domestic safety forces, too) took a year to develop. It takes four hours to set up. Its 18 panels, each framed in airplane-grade aluminum, stand 92 inches tall.
The Wall was started on a $30,000 donation from Ariel Corporation in Mt. Vernon.
When it’s complete, the full investment will be $130,000, all from private donations. Most recently, the nonprofit received $5,000 from the Lorain AMVETS.
Norm Denger, of South Amherst, is a volunteer with the traveling exhibit. He got involved after meeting Sexton.
“The point of this is to share what men and women in uniform went through,” he said. “We want (students) to get a feeling of what they’ve endured… We want them to know about that sacrifice. And we want the wars to end.”
Denger also has a personal investment in the Wall’s story. He is the son of a World War II naval serviceman who was at sea in the Pacific when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And his daughter, Carie McDonald, is a master sergeant in the Air Force and has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
At Steele, he showed us a print from the Wall honoring law enforcement officers. Earlier in the day, Sexton had pulled sophomore Christian Velez out of class to present him with a copy.
Velez lost his father, Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Kenneth Velez, earlier this year. The trooper was hit and killed while conducting a traffic stop in Cuyahoga County.
Visits to schools have been moving, Sexton said. In Amherst, the students were quick to thank exhibitors and some returned to listen again and ask questions after seeing a first presentation.
After a recent stop in Bellevue, Smith and Sexton got letters of thanks from students who pledged to read more about history.
“That’s what this is all about, getting more about history out in the schools,” Denger said.
Sexton said her late husband approves of the 100-foot-long tribute — she believes she’s gotten otherworldly confirmation he is pleased.
“I got my sign and people don’t believe me,” she said. “David was my soulmate. We could hear and feel each other, even from a distance. He is with me, will always be with me.”
Setting up the wall for the first time this year at a Civil War show in Mansfield, she said it appeared the flags on the Wall were waving, bullets were flying, and there was an aura around the image of her husband’s head, which is included in the art piece.
Sexton said she screamed for Smith and others, who came running. She swears they saw the ghostly manifestation too.
“Guys, we’ve got our answer. We have done a good thing,” Sexton told them.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Ronald Smith, president of “The Spirit of America’s Story — The Wall,” is a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Persian Gulf and Desert Storm. Here he talks to Amherst Steele High School students about how the wall came to be.