Friday, July 29, 2011
The dream of honoring these memorials is old. I cannot pinpoint the exact date of its birth, but in 1989 I drove from Maryland to Fairbanks, Alaska and took my very first pictures on that trip. So, it began sometime prior to then.
One of the places I stopped that summer was in Denver, Colorado. I had a couple of hours between flights and decided to check out what the city might have to offer.
I walked out of the old Stapleton Airport and got into the first cab in the long line out front. I said to the driver, "Take me to the Vietnam Memorial" As we drove along he told me his story. He had been in medical school and failed to file his deferment papers on time. Nine months, or so, later, he was in 'Nam. A story we have all heard too many times.
He drove me into town and pointed to the memorial. As I left the cab, he said, "Hey buddy, can I go with you? I have never seen it up close." We walked over and there enclosed by the pillars of a tall building was the monument. We stood gazing at it, trying not to weep in front of each other. We were only moderately successful. I took a number of photographs and we returned to the airport so I could make my connection. As I left the cab, he shook my hand and said he would like to have a copy of my book should I eventually complete it.
Over the next 20 years or so, I continued to dream and think about this project. Waiting until retirement from my school system to be able to begin in earnest. As I planned my journey I remembered the pictures from Denver and wondered if I could use them. I knew that this project would take a lot of time and probably more money than I anticipated. So, if I could use old pics, it might save me a trip and therefore, some money. Interestingly, I found all the photographs from that trip except the Denver shots. I searched and searched and they are just gone. I have no idea (or memory) of what might have happened to them. So, I began to research the memorial and try determine its location so that I could photograph it, once again. I could find nothing. Not one word, one picture, one mention, of this memorial in all of my searching. I spoke with friends who lived in Denver for many years and they were not familiar with the site. They even tried to locate it for me on a visit to see their grown children in Denver. Nothing.
The time arrived for my trip to Colorado. I figured I must be able to find someone in the city who knew what I was looking for. Upon arrival, I called the local VFW and talked to a guy who was very helpful, but did not know the site. He called me back the next day, after checking with his own contacts, to tell me he was unsuccessful. He gave me some other numbers to call. During this process I left several messages around the city.
As I was driving through the town, my cell rang and it was someone from the Adjutant General's Office returning my call. She was very kind, enthusiastic and bent over backwards to help me. But, she did not know the memorial I was seeking. We had several phone conversations and email exchanges, but no monument. During one call I remembered that the memorial had been at a very tall building that seemed to nearly encompass an old Catholic church. There was dead silence on the other end of the line, she said, "Mike, you're not going to believe this, but that was my church many years ago. I know exactly where it is!" She gave me the address and I was less than two blocks from the site! I called her back a few minutes later to report that I was standing in front of the memorial, once again, trying not to weep! I thought it had been lost to me, but there it was; on the corner of 19th and California, next to Holy Ghost Catholic Church. It reminds me of some scripture I heard, probably as a kid, about "...the lost being found..." It turns out that the sculpture was donated to the church by a 'Nam vet. When I saw it, more than 20 years ago, there was a large American flag suspended above it. The flag seemed to be getting lowered to cover the poncho clad soldier. The flag is now gone and no one seems to know why. The sculptor suggested that it is probably as simple as budget cuts and efforts to save money. I miss that flag. It gave me the chills when I first saw it. Some might suggest that there may be some connection between the monument and its location. As the world's greatest skeptic, I have my doubts, but who is to say?
I took a bunch of pics and was very pleased that it had finally all worked out when just an hour or so earlier I was ready to admit defeat and leave Denver. Little did I know that this story was not over!
My contact called me back and said she had talked with the sculptor, who was excited about my project and wanted to talk to me.
After a couple failed attempts, we finally hooked up, and more of this amazing story, unfolded.
It seems the sculptor made a model of the statue to enter as a submission for a competition to choose the New York City Vietnam Memorial. When something else was chosen, he consigned the model to a spot in his studio. The church's benefactor happened into the shop, saw the model and commissioned the sculptor to create the statue that now stands outside the church. The sculptor, by this time, had decided to make the piece a more general and inclusive war memorial (which may help explain why I had so much difficulty locating it while looking for Vietnam memorials) The benefactor, later, had a second copy placed at the Riverside National Cemetery which is also the home of the National POW/MIA memorial. (I will be at Riverside in August and will post more about it at a future date)
Well, now the story takes an interesting twist!
Jump to Ireland a few years back. Declan Hughes, a well known Irish writer and as it turns out somewhat of an activist, is given a ring that the Vietnamese government had given a visitor to the country. The ring, it turns out belonged to an Irish citizen killed in 'Nam. Hughes began a search to find the family of the ring's owner. During this process he began to wonder if more than one Irishman had died in 'Nam. His research turned up quite a few! 19 men and one woman were identified as KIA. He then asked those responsible for the Traveling Wall to bring it to Ireland. You can read a more complete telling of this part of the story, here;
The wall traveled to Ireland and one of the places it rested was on Adare Manor in Limerick. Adare Manor, quite unbelievably to me, is owned by the church's and riverside's benefactor, the same guy who commissioned the first two statues! He had a third statue commissioned (the maximum the sculptor will allow) and had it placed at Adare Manor to honor the visit of the Traveling Wall to Ireland!
It interests me how a simple visit to a memorial, more than 20 years ago, can lead to such an fascinating and ever evolving story and how what amounts to a desperate phone call to the Adjutant Generals office in Colorado actually made it all come to light. I cannot thank the people (you know who you are!) in the Adjutant's Office enough for their on going interest and support of this story and as a result my whole project. Their professionalism assures me that Vets in Colorado are well served by people who care and really get it!!
Sunday, July 24, 2011
The Colorado Vietnam memorial is in Pueblo, a couple of hours south of Denver. Located in a small park in the median of the road it lists the names of all 621 (the latest figure I can find) from the state who lost their lives in 'Nam. It also tells the story of the first American woman killed. In 1965 a bomb placed outside the American Embassy took her life. In addition there is a marker to the Medal of Honor awardee from the area. Interestingly, Pueblo boasts four MOH awardees and has a separate memorial elsewhere in the city. I may write more about that later.
Located at Elizabeth and 26th Streets the memorial also honors another of Pueblo's sons. A Marine killed in North Vietnam (presumably shot down) and buried in 1999 in Arlington. One makes the assumption that his remains were returned long after the war in the ongoing repatriation efforts between the US and Vietnam. Welcome home, brother.
This alone should be enough to say about this simple, yet elegant, memorial, but the story of how it came to be is, in my view, astonishing.
I often wonder why some memorials are placed where they are? Most seem to be on the grounds of, or near the Capitol, State House or some other government building. Once in a while however, they are in median strips far from the Capitol. Most of the time I am completely unsuccessful in tracking down the reasons for this, but in this case, the following story makes the answer obvious!
It seems a young man in Pueblo wanted to honor his buddies from 'Nam. No one took him too seriously. You see he was different. Some thought he might be handicapped. After all, he graduated from the local high school two years behind his peers. It took him three cycles to make it through boot camp! Many thought he might not be military material and certainly not Vietnam material.
Well, he ended up in 'Nam and literally slept with his M-16 every night while in-country. He, unlike many of his buddies, survived 'Nam. When he came home he was able to work at menial jobs, just like in 'Nam, but the nightmares and the memories and the fear eventually won out. He was finally designated as disabled with PTSD.
He began to work on building the memorial. He talked with many, raised money sitting outside a grocery store and over a period of time, years actually, managed to get it completed.
My long term readers know that I never use anyone's name in these posts. Too many legal issues, permissions etc, but I often direct you to another site with more info. I do so today. If you have never followed one of my suggested links before, I urge you to do so today. This story is compelling! There are lessons here too numerous to list about the human spirit and how we deal with each other as human beings and as brothers.
Please go to;
to learn more about this most unlikely hero!
Next, I move on to Denver and discover a story that involves lost memorials, Irish writers and just some plain old luck. Join me on the 29th for this remarkable tale.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I don't usually stray from my subject for two posts in a row, but as I was leaving Tennessee I noticed what seemed to be a huge disparity in the flora!
The first pics are of a prickly pear cactus usually associated with the southwest, New Mexico, Arizona, et al. So, I was very surprised to see this one, bigger than most, in Tennessee. I spend a lot of in the southwest and I promise, this is a big one!
Then, driving through the mountains I came across these beautiful views. The ice in the first looks as if it took years to build up and the trees in the second just glistened in the sun. I apologize for the poor quality of the pics themselves but Tennessee, when planning her roads, does not consider the needs of an itinerant photographer. No place to pull over and shoot. These are a real drive by.
One other interesting fact. I looked at the exif data on these pics and discovered that they were taken 21 minutes apart. Cactus to ice in 21 minutes!!
I should probably note that these were taken near the end of January, 2011.
Next, I am moving on to Colorado. There are a couple of really interesting stories there that go from Denver to Ireland and back. So, be sure to check in on the 24th to travel this beautiful state.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
As I was driving out of Whitwell I saw a small sign which read Children's Holocaust Museum with an arrow pointing to the right. I followed the signs and soon discovered Whitwell Middle School.
It seems that the school wanted to help students understand the sheer magnitude of the Holocaust. Taking the Norwegian symbol of resistance, the paperclip which was invented in Norway, the students decided to try to collect 11,000,000. One for each of those murdered by the Nazis. In one of the photos, you can see 11,000,000 of the over 30,000,000 clips collected by the students. These are on display inside the rail car. Also, the suitcase is filled with letters from German children apologizing to Anne Frank. In addition, as word spread about the project, documents and letters began to arrive at the school. Today, the school has designated a special library to the project which contains over 33,000 documents and letters received.
The box car was actually used to transport Jews and other prisoners to the camps. It was donated by German White House correspondents to the school when they learned of the project. The car was used for many things before and after the war including appearances in movies about the war.
Their story was made into an award winning documentary called Paper Clips which can be purchased from the school.
Here is a link to what Wikipedia has to say about the project.
And here is the Whitwell Middle School site;
I realize that this post is not about Vietnam, but I think that it is related because it is about people's desire for freedom and mankind's responsibilities to each other.
The next post will be the last from Tennessee and again not specifically about 'Nam, but I hope you will find it interesting, anyway.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
While at breakfast with the guys from Soddy Daisy, one of them asked me if I had seen the memorial over in Dunlap? One of things I love about this journey is that this seems to happen on every trip! Someone tells me about a site I have never heard of before. Assured that Dunlap was only about 20 miles away, I set out to see what was there.
When I arrived all I could find was the beginnings of a Veteran's Memorial, still under construction. (top pic) I stopped at a local National Guard Amory and the good folks there assured me that what I had seen was in fact the new memorial, not yet completed. One of them said, "Have you seen the one in Whitwell?" "It's only about 20 miles from here!"
Somewhat amazed, I set out again and this time found this great park.
On my next post I will show some other pics from Tennessee that I think you might find interesting, too.
Monday, July 4, 2011
I wanted to share a couple more photos from this great site in Soddy-Daisy. These brick structures welcome you to the site and commemorate our most recent wars back to WWII. (The large white wall in the back is WWI) The one for Vietnam lists the names of the 6 from the area who did not return. On top of this one there is a small statue of a kneeling soldier. I didn't notice at first but then saw that he is not a 'Nam vet. I asked about him and was told an interesting story.
He is a complete mystery!
No one knows where he came from. He just showed up one day about three years ago and has been here ever since. It is surprising that he has not disappeared as mysteriously as he arrived. Periodically, some one (still unknown) comes and moves him from one brick structure to another. Perhaps he, like the Huey, is guarding this memorial to the local lost heroes.
The eagle, one of two, watches all from above on this our nation's birthday and everyday! So, today, celebrate our independence and our freedom, but take a moment to remember these, here, and all those who have given so much. We are Americans by accident of birth and free because of the wisdom of our founders and the sacrifices of so many.