BY ALBERT NAHAS
Begun as a veterans memorial park named for one of Monroe County’s first casualties of the Vietnam War, the Monroe County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Heck Park has become a major county attraction. Created and maintained by VVA Monroe County Chapter 142, the park contains many memorials and remembrances of the war.
Norman “Rusty” W. Heck, Jr., an Army Captain from Monroe, was killed in Vietnam on December 8, 1964. The twenty-four-acre Heck Park was originally a limestone quarry owned by France Stone Company, but by 1965 the quarry had been exhausted of quality stone. The owner, a good friend of Rusty’s father, donated the land to the city and the county with the stipulation that it become a park dedicated to veterans and named for Capt. Heck.
The landscaped quarry was dedicated as a park in June 1967, along with a black granite monument and a single flagpole. The monument, topped with a gold eagle, was dedicated to Capt. Heck and all who served and died in Vietnam. With its ball field and playgrounds, the park became a popular community gathering place.
In March 1984 Vietnam veterans in Monroe County started VVA Chapter 142. Marine Vietnam veteran Bob Dusk, the founding president, gained approval from city and county officials for additional Vietnam memorials at the park.
The first monument added was an M-shaped pink granite Living Memorial dedicated on May 17, 1987, to all Monroe County veterans of the Vietnam War. This memorial forms the backdrop for a black granite column inscribed with Lincoln’s words of solace to young soldiers, and on the back, the names of fifty-eight men from the county killed in Vietnam, along with one listed as missing.
To attract attention to the park, a Huey helicopter and Cobra gunship were added in 1991 and 1994. The Huey originally was mounted with freewheeling blades, but they had to be fixed after the helicopter attempted to “take off” from its pedestal in a strong wind.
In 1997 the chapter presented a five-year plan to county officials to expand the park. Five years would stretch to ten by the time the park was completed.
A Walk of Freedom leads from the entrance kiosk past a weeping cherry tree dedicated to all POWs and MIAs to a circle around the Huey. It begins with seventy-seven bricks, one for every Michigan service member missing in Vietnam. Since the dedication, twenty-four remains have been returned. The walk continues with bricks recognizing veterans and memorial supporters.
On the larger walkway circling the park are memorials to SSG Melvin C. Dye, still missing in action, a tribute to chaplains who brought spiritual guidance and comfort to those in battle, a monument to women veterans, an 81mm mortar in a sandbagged pit, and a chained eagle representing a prisoner’s loss of freedom.
The park has become a popular attraction, drawing visitors to Monroe. A visit by the Moving Wall in 1998 brought more than 20,000 visitors, demonstrating to the county that honoring its veterans can also benefit local businesses. An additional improvement was the construction of a Vietnam War museum in the park in 2004.
|Warriors Remembered: Monroe County
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
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