|Vietnam Veterans of America|
In 2007 Chuck Hampe took his veteran father to the dedication of the Morgan County, West Virginia, World War II Memorial. Though not a veteran himself—his lottery number was way up there—he has always had a deep respect for Vietnam veterans. “The World War II veterans had a long wait” to have a memorial built, Hampe said. “I didn’t want Vietnam vets to wait that long. They’d waited long enough.”
Hampe enlisted the help of his wife Linda, then spoke to his friend Ira Manley, who served with the U.S. Army in Tay Ninh in 1967-68. Together they hashed out preliminary plans, then started fundraising by printing some tee-shirts that promoted the idea of a local Vietnam veterans memorial.
At the time they had no idea that the process would take more than twelve years. Which was probably a good thing, as they also didn’t know how much work would be involved. Tee-shirts were followed by more tee-shirts and more tee-shirts, then long-sleeved shirts, coffee mugs, and other merchandise. There were raffles—many raffles—and auctions, the most profitable raising more than $10,000.
“There were hundreds of events,” Linda Hampe said, including regular bingo games, even purse bingos, dances with ’50s and ’60s themes, and many fundraising dinners. American Legion Post 60 took them under its wing, helped in many ways, and allowed them to set up a table at the post’s monthly breakfasts. The Hampes brought all their information about the memorial, as well as all their inventory.
The Morgan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, headed by Chuck Hampe, eventually included a twelve-member board of directors. “Looking back,” Ira Manley said, “we worked hard, but we had a lot of fun.”
Several designs were floated, “but the veterans made it clear that they wanted the memorial to be along the same lines as the memorials to World War II and the Spanish-American War,” Hampe said. The site they had their eye on was Fairfax Green, the traffic island on Fairfax Street in the center of Berkeley Springs next to the Morgan County Courthouse—where the other memorials stood.
Some were unhappy and cited a tree on the Green that would have to be removed to make way for the memorial. They recommended a far-less-prominent site behind the Catholic church. But in the end, it was placed with the county’s other memorials.
Actually, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial met with few objections and received strong local support. In this small and rural county in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, the Fund eventually raised well over a quarter-million dollars to fund its project. Some donations came from as far as Arizona and Florida; others from people in neighboring counties and states. But most of the money was donated by the citizens and businesses of Morgan County.
Not all the donations took the form of cash. Some people donated items to be sold at auction, including two guns. Don DeLash, who served with First Marine Aircraft Group 12 in Japan in 1969-72, donated a Honda motorcycle. “It’s just as well,” he joked. “Otherwise I probably would have gotten myself killed on that thing.”
Every time the Hampes set up a booth, their bank stood front and center. Chuck had made it himself: a wooden scale model of the memorial. Even if you didn’t want to buy, you could still donate.
Others donated services. That included the auctioneer, excavator, and web designer. When Mike Keefer removed the much-debated tree on the memorial site, he was asked for an invoice. “The names on that monument paid for it,” he replied.
Seventy-nine donors contributed more than $1,000. One offered to match funds up to $1,000. Ira Manley and Ronnie Barker (2nd Sig. Group, Long Binh, 1967-68) both jumped to be first to take him up on his offer; they each contributed $1,000. “All of us donated as much as we could,” said Darrell Hartsock, who served with the Army in Can Tho and Bien Hoa in 1968-70.
More than forty volunteers joined the project. Some concentrated on raising money; others worked on the memorial’s names. Three separate name lists were compiled that would appear on three sides of the central obelisk. The front would prominently display the names of the seven native sons who had died in Vietnam, as well as all the others from Morgan County who had served in-country. The second list, which faced the courthouse, included all county residents who had served during the Vietnam Era; and the third listed those who had served and later moved to Morgan County.
It was a slow process, accomplished as things usually are in small, tight communities: mostly by word of mouth. Periodically, the lists would be published in The Morgan Messenger until the finished list was published once, then twice, waiting for any last-minute additions, and then declared final.
There are exactly six hundred names on the Morgan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial. That’s a staggering number considering that in 1970 the county had only 8,500 residents. Even so, the list is incomplete; many Vietnam veterans, for personal reasons, didn’t want their names on the memorial.
A Sense Of Connection
The 60,000-pound memorial sits on a 14’x14’x3’ concrete slab. It has 13 visible pieces made of gray granite, although the three lists of names are inscribed in black granite. The steps at the base are both made of four pieces. Once they were assembled, but before the crane operator placed the next piece—the 15,000-pound base cap with the MCVVMF logo—on top of them, seven polished shells representing the county’s Vietnam War casualties were taped just inside the steps, out of sight but forever part of the memorial. Their names:
Then the main piece—the obelisk bearing the names and Hampe’s tribute poem on the back—was set in place, and finally the memorial was topped with the Vietnam Service Medal. “That crane operator,” said Ira Manley admiringly, “he could’ve pulled your teeth if you were lying down.”
The Morgan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial was set in place on March 26. Three days later, on National Vietnam War Veterans Day, it was decorated with a wreath and seven American flags.
The formal dedication will be held September 18. Preparations are well underway. In the interim, the local garden club will lay sod and embellish the site with flowers.
ragtime—he legally changed his name when he returned from Vietnam to one without capital letters or a last name (“I didn’t like who I was when I came back from Vietnam”), and he remains troubled by what he saw serving as a Marine in Dong Ha and other places along the DMZ in 1967-68—said the war is a long way off, yet every day it’s on his mind.
He once had reservations about the memorial and its cost. But now, he says, “When I drive by, it gives me a sense of connection.”
|The VVA Veteran® is a publication of Vietnam Veterans of America. ©All rights reserved.
8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910 | www.vva.org | contact us