FORT COLLINS —
Sherry Leeper stood alone at the entrance to Spring Canyon Community Park last week, hugging Old Glory and waiting for the riders escorting the name and memory of her brother back to her.
"It's like he gets to come home again," said Leeper, who was 9 when her big brother — Chief Warrant Officer Wallace Wilson "Skeeter" Leeper — died in the Vietnam War.
"And these men," Leeper said, nodding toward the eastern horizon, "are some of the finest men in the country today."
Moments later, over that same horizon, came the throaty rumble of 175 motorcycles drawing closer.
Sherry Leeper, and about a dozen others who lined the park's entrance, smiled and waved.
Memorial Day 2013
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The gleaming, growling column of mostly Harley-Davidsons rolled into the park, supporting the truck carrying the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.
David "Oiler" Welch, a heavy-equipment operator from Brighton and Desert Storm Army combat veteran, rode point on the delivery.
The softspoken Welch, 41, is the local chapter commander of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. The group's members shouldered the sacred task of escorting and assembling the traveling wall. They also will stand guard at Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado in the park 24 hours a day through Monday afternoon, allowing people to visit in their own time and on their own terms to honor those who fought and died in Vietnam.
Welch was in charge of escort logistics. But he also finds himself in the role of grassroots therapist — or at least a guy some still-grieving loved one can talk to about the toll inflicted by Vietnam.
"When you see someone coming up to the wall for the first time, well, it can be moving, heart-wrenching and worth everything we do," he said. "All you can do is talk to them and maybe help stop a bleeding heart."
Any veteran in need who asks gets help from Welch's riders, who are part of one of four CVMA chapters in Colorado.
Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs helped three homeless veterans get a roof over the heads, but it was the northern Colorado motorcycle crew that got their homes completely furnished in three days' time.
Later this summer, the riders will hold a poker run to help raise funds for an injured veteran and single parent who is caught in the middle of administrative red tape and is out of other options, Welch said.
"Our main mission is to make sure veterans get the help they need, and it doesn't matter what branch of service they were in or where they saw action," he said. "We are there to help."
Diggs Brown, a former Fort Collins City Council member who helped bring the traveling wall to the city, said the riders helped raise the profile of Vietnam vets.
"It is fantastic what they did," Brown said. "They helped welcome the wall for Fort Collins and got the Vietnam vets the recognition they deserve."
The traveling wall is only 20 percent smaller than the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and is the largest reproduction of the landmark memorial. It carries the names of 58,261 service members who died in the war.
It includes the names of 623 fallen servicemen and women from Colorado, including Skeeter Leeper, who lived in Wellington.
Welch said his bonds with the veterans motorcycle group are maybe even stronger than the ones he formed with his buddies in combat.
"I think it might be, because here we have all people from all the branches who served," Welch said. "And they just want to be here to honor those who went before us."
Rick Farrell, a master sergeant who served in the Colorado Air National Guard in Iraq, said his rides with the wall are to show respect for past warriors.
"Personally, I can't do enough to honor them," said Farrell, 60, who is known as "Wingman."
"It's about pride, it's about camaraderie, it's about honoring what other people have done for us and our country," Farrell said.
Skeeter Leeper was 20 when he was declared missing in action in South Vietnam on Dec. 2, 1967. The crash site of his Huey Army assault helicopter was later found in 1993, and his remains were returned to the U.S.
In October 2002, he was given a group burial at Arlington National Cemetery and his name was placed on the original wall.
Sherry Leeper does what she can to remember her brother, including becoming a "Blue Star Little Sis" of his brother's unit, the 48th Assault Helicopter Company. Unit members, she said, filled her in on what her brother was like.
"They taught me who he was as a young man; they kind of filled in the blanks," said Sherry Leeper, who worries that people will quickly forget about her brother and those who died in an unpopular war.
Danny Aguirre, 37, vowed not to let that happen.
Aguirre just happened to be at the park, playing with his 8-year-old stepson, when the motorcycles arrived. He stopped and made sure the boy paid attention to what the riders were doing.
"I told him they were all here because of the war, and that they were honoring their brothers," Aguirre said. "I think that's important for the next generation to know."
Visit the wall
The AVTT Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall will be on display through Monday at Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado in Spring Canyon Community Park in Fort Collins.
"Taps" will be played at 7 p.m. Sunday, followed by a Q&A session with veterans.
On Monday, Memorial Day, the wall will be dismantled after closing "Taps" and a 21-gun salute at 3 p.m.
The wall is open 24 hours.