Vietnam Veterans of America
Membership Notes, September/October 2018
Utah’s Wall and Other Replicas of the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial
“As I was boarding the plane to leave Vietnam, I made a promise that I would do something one day before I took my last breath to make sure people would never forget those Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice in our war,” Dennis Howland, the president of VVA’s Utah State Council, said recently. “I wanted everyone to recognize that we all served with honor, integrity, loyalty, and dedication.”
That something crystalized in Howland’s mind in 2014 when he paid a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. “I thought, what if we built a Wall for people who couldn’t travel to D.C.—for whatever reasons, medical, financial, time?” That led to the idea of creating a replica of the Maya Lin-designed D.C. Wall in Utah, complete with the engraved names of the 58,317 Americans who died or remain missing in the Vietnam War.
Shortly after returning home Howland talked to VVA member Kim Wixson about the project and decided to put a plan in motion to build a replica wall. Almost immediately, members of other veterans organizations told them it could not be done. Howland and Wixson saw that as a challenge and pushed ahead, coming up with the idea of a Wall 370 feet long, roughly 80 percent as large as the iconic Wall on the Mall in Washington.
“If you put it in a football field,” Howland said, “it would probably hit both goal posts.”
Next came the task of finding a city for Utah’s Wall that, Howland said, “would belong to all veterans throughout the Mountain West.” He approached officials at three cities in Northern Utah, but none offered a space large enough for the memorial. Then he approached Layton, Utah, Mayor Bob Stevenson. He arranged a meeting with city officials, and they came up with three possible locations in Layton, which is about twenty-five miles north of Salt Lake City.
They settled on the northeast corner of the forty-seven-acre Layton Commons Park across from Layton High School. The park also contains two Little League baseball fields, two playgrounds, an amphitheater, and the town offices.
“It became an incredible partnership between Layton, the VVA State Council, and VVA Chapter 1079 and its Associates,” Howland said.
Then came the hard part: raising more than $500,000 to build and install the imposing Wall, which would be built out of lightweight anodized aluminum adhered to a masonry wall by American Veterans Traveling Tribute in Texas.
“We talked a lot about money,” Howland said, and “found just about every possible creative way we could to raise it.” That included events such as starting a Go Fund Me campaign; information booths at car shows; bake sales and fun runs; and selling bricks for dedication and placement around the Wall in what was dubbed the “That’s My Brick” campaign.
“Our members stood outside in all types of conceivable weather to raise funds,” Howland said. “Rain, heat, snow. You name it.”
Howland and company received many large and small private contributions and about $140,000 in grant money. In 2016 and 2017, after a two-year lobbying campaign, the Utah State Legislature appropriated two contributions of $100,000.
“An incredible team accomplished the fundraising,” Howland said. “It came from the community, the city, county, and little kids who donated $4.42 to represent an average of what 20,000 kids on the Wall made in one day. No matter how large or small the contribution, all of Utah helped make this happen.”
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Veterans Day 2017. “Layton City Parks and Recreation employee JoEllen Grandy designed and oversaw the work,” Howland said, “complete with a flag pole and flower bed designed to resemble the folded American flag presented to the families of those who died.”
Site work on the Utah Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall began in February this year when Layton city crews began clearing trees in the park. Construction started in March. Volunteers from the community and Home Depot put the finishing touches on the memorial—landscaping with flowers, trees, and shrubs, and laying sod—during the first weeks of July. The Wall was dedicated on July 14 with VVA National President John Rowan in attendance. Some three thousand people attended the dedication ceremony, which included a flyover of four F35s from Hill Air Force Base.
Inside the apex of the Wall Howland placed the Vietnam Expeditionary, Vietnam Campaign, and the Vietnam Service medals, a Purple Heart, and other items in a sealed container. “These are items those killed earned but never wore,” he said. Eight reflection benches are spaced along the Wall’s walkway to honor the eight women who died in the Vietnam War.
“This monument belongs to all of Utah,” Howland said the day of the dedication. “It’s not just Layton’s or mine. It belongs to every veteran in Utah. It’s Utah’s Wall. It’s a lasting tribute to our legacy during this, the 40th year of Vietnam Veterans of America.”
Layton, Utah’s Wall is among a short list of other Vietnam Veterans Memorial replicas in the country. As we noted in the November/December 2017 issue, a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Replica Wall was dedicated last November at Veterans Park in Tupelo, Mississippi. At about 60 percent the size of the original in Washington, D.C., this Wall is 290 feet long.
That November day was the culmination of a six-year effort to build the Wall with fundraising led by VVA’s Tupelo Chapter 842 and a local Marine Corps League detachment. The Mississippi State Legislature issued a bond for $750,000 to fund the bulk of the million-dollar project. Groundbreaking took place April 7, 2014.
“It’s hard to believe it’s finally completed,” Mississippi State Council President Rex Moody said on the dedication day. “It was a tremendous amount of work, but it’s an effort that brought together the entire community. I am very, very proud of what we have accomplished.” http://vvaveteran.org/37-6/37-6_notes3.html
As we reported in the November/December 2015 issue, there is a 241-foot replica Wall at the Memorial Building in Dinuba in Central California, a little more than half the size of The Wall in Washington. VVA member Joe Rivera spearheaded that replica project. Rivera used his own money to have design plans drawn up, then he and other local veterans found the site and started fundraising.
The city of Dinuba donated $5,000. Rivera and crew brought in more money through fundraisers and from donations from individuals and local businesses, offering plaques at the site for donations of $1,000 or more and commemorative bricks for $100 contributions.
The replica wall in Dinuba was dedicated on April 30, 2015, the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
Michael P. Callahan Memorial Chapter 955 in Wildwood, New Jersey, dedicated its own replica wall, 250 feet long and made of black granite, in 2010. Each of the panels, seventy-four in total, had a sponsor. The project was completed without any funding from state, federal, or local governments.
The replica Wall project was proposed by former Chapter President Greg Mazzotta, who had admired the Moving Wall when it visited Wildwood in 2008. He died before the installation could be organized. The chapter finished the project in part to honor his memory, along with paying tribute to those who have perished in the nation’s wars. http://vvaveteran.org/35-6/35-6_notes3.html
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