Thursday, April 1, 2021

Virginia XXI

A journey within a journey

I have been telling pieces of this story since nearly the beginning of this project in 2009 and now, finally, it has come full circle and I can retell the first part and bring the story to conclusion.

In 1989 I had a layover in the Denver airport and I had some time to kill. I walked out front and got in the first cab in the queue. I said to the driver, "Take me to the Vietnam memorial." He headed out of Stapleton and into town.

Now, I "knew" this guy. He had long hair, full beard, old Army field jacket, all the markings of so many of us. He turned and said, "Why do you want to see that?" I told him I had some thoughts about seeing as many as I could and maybe sharing them with guys who could not travel all over the county to see them, maybe in a book.  This was before I fully understood how the the internet could spread the word; when books were still the way. I didn't get my first computer until 1991.

He was quiet for a while then finally said, "I was in my third year of medical school and my deferment papers were late: nine months later I was in 'Nam. Since I've been back, this is all I can do."

Shortly, he pulled over to the side of the road, pointed across the street and said, "it's over there" I asked him to wait, I'd be right back. As I crossed the street, he rolled down the window and yelled, " Hey, buddy, can I go with you, I've never seen it?"

We walked over and stood in front of the large rectangular stone, with a dead body of a soldier sprawled across the top. I think we were each trying very hard not to cry in front of the other. I recall that he said, "How come other guys get parades and all we get is a dead soldier on a slab?" I will hear those words as long as I live, I think.

I took a few pics with my very primitive Kodak digital, returned to the airport and was gone. I think of that guy and his telling words often.

Jump ahead 20 years, I am retired now and planning to begin this journey to photograph as many Vietnam memorials as possible. At this point it is still a small, maybe 50 memorial plan, I did not know yet that some states do not have "Official" Vietnam memorials or that I will have to expand my vision and plan. As I am planning, I remember thinking that I don't have to go back to Denver because I already have those shots! I start hunting them down and cannot find them, I have not found them to this day.

So, when the time comes to start planning a trip to Colorado, I start trying to locate what ever memorials I can, including this one. Well, not one of my sources have anything on it, nothing, nada, zip. I start making phone calls, The American Legion, VFW, etc, nothing. Finally, some one suggested I call the Colorado Adjutant Generals Office. So, I do. No one answers so I leave a detailed message. I call again the next day, and the next and then, frankly, give up on them.

Then while I am in Colorado, they call my home and my wife gives them my cell number and they call me. A very nice person named Janelle apologizes profusely for not getting back to me but they had had an unexpected death in the office and were consumed with that. She did tell me that when she got my first message, she had reached out to all their sources and got nothing. She said she had reached out to Patriot Guard who keeps good records on all this and they had nothing, she even forwarded their extensive list to me. There were several more phone calls all lamenting the fact that they just could not figure out what memorial I was looking for.

Driving through the city I came upon the new Busch Stadium and a bulb went off in my head. I know what happened, it got displaced by this huge new stadium! Accepting defeat, I headed out of Denver to seek other memorials in other parts of the state.

As I am leaving the phone rings one more time. It is Janelle, we are on a first name basis by this time, calling me to simply report no progress. I pulled off to the side of the road to talk to her and I told her that what I remembered was that it was under the portico of a skyscraper that butted up against a Gothic Roman Catholic Church. There was dead silence on the end of the phone... then she said, "Mike, you're not going to believe this, but that was my church when I lived in Denver, it is on the corner of 19th and California!" I had stopped near the corner of 17th and California, headed away from the memorial. Five minutes later I was on the phone again with Janelle telling her that I had found it. Again, trying not to cry.

Denver, Colorado

Later that evening, Janelle called me again. She said that she had been thinking about all this and had called the sculptor, Thom Schomberg and he wanted to talk to me. Tom was currently in California opening a new shop for his sculpture. I called him and we spoke for a while.

He told me the story of how this memorial had originally been his submission in a competition to become the New York City Vietnam memorial. For those who may not know, artist send a small version of their ideas to be considered before creating the full-sized version. The 18-inch version of this stature did not arrive in time and was, therefore, not even seen. It was returned to him and he placed on a shelf in his shop in Denver.

It sat there a while and he decided to change its name from Vietnam Memorial to War Memorial to see if that might broaden its appeal.

One day, a guy walked in and said, "How many of those will you make for me?"  Mr. Schomberg explained to me that he has a personal rule that he will make no more than three of any sculpture that is life sized or larger. He explained this to the man and he said, "I'll take them."

The man, Tom Kane, donated one to his church in Denver and put the other two in safe keeping near his residence, at the time, in New Jersey. Mr. Kane, it turns out, was a fighter pilot in Vietnam in 1965.

So, later that night, I was in a hotel somewhere and Tom Schomberg called me back and asked that I give full credit to Mr. Kane for these statues because without his interest, they would have never happened. I explained that I was hesitant to use anyone's name without out their permission. He said he understood.

Later the same evening, he called back and told me that Tom Kane wanted to talk to me and gave me his number.

Now, hold that thought. I promise we will come back around to it.

Declan Hughes is an Irish writer, among other things, and I am one of his readers.

Well, Declan had a friend who took a tour of Vietnam and while on that trip something happened that set many other things in motion, like the butterfly flapping its wings.

An old man walked up to him and handed him a ring. The ring of a soldier killed in Vietnam. How the old man knew that the soldier was Irish, I do not know, but he did, and he gave the ring to the visiting Irishman.

Declan's friend brought the ring back home and turned it over to him, figuring, I guess, that Declan had a broader network of contacts to work with in trying to learn something about it.

It was, in fact, discovered that the soldier had been from Dublin.*

Declan contacted Jan Scruggs, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation who built The Wall, and asked if he was aware that Irish citizens were listed among our war dead? Scruggs replied that as far as The Wall was concerned, if they wore American uniforms they were included and, for these purposes, were considered Americans.

Well, this intrigued Hughes and he continued to do some research. In time, he identified 15 more Irish families that had lost loved ones in 'Nam.

So, another twist! It is, now 1989 and George Mitchell has brought peace to Ireland for the first time in many years. Ireland is jubilant and planning celebrations throughout the country. Declan contacts Scruggs, once more, and asks if VVMF would bring The Traveling Wall to Ireland to honor the 16** lost from Erin?

Scruggs agrees.

The Wall comes to Ireland and one of the places it visits is Adare Manor. The manor's origin can be traced back nearly 1000 years and at the time had been refurbished and made into a hotel and golf vacation destination on 840 acres.

The owner of the Manor invited all 16 families of the Irish heroes to come for a weekend to honor The Wall and their loved ones. The U.S. sent a military delegation to award a medal to the family of one of the lost. The Taoiseach (Tee sha), the leader of the Irish government attended and spent the whole weekend with the families!

And, here we come back around.

The owner of Adare Manor was Tom Kane. The same Tom Kane who commissioned the 3 statues, one of which he brought to Ireland to honor The Wall.

Tom told me that he had intended to have the statue visit and then do something else with it, but that it was still there and he guessed that it would always be there. He sent me photos of it outside Adare Manor and I always like to point out that this is the only picture on my site, A Means to Heal ( that I did not take and planned to replace it with my own photo.

I had visited and photographed the statue in Denver and I had traveled to Riverside California to see the second one at the National POW Memorial where Tom had placed it. I wanted desperately to get to Ireland to capture the third.

Riverside, California

Just a year or two ago, I finally made that journey, I finally got to Ireland. I had found a couple of other memorials to those lost in 'Nam in the country and was going to start a new component of this project: to visit Vietnam memorials in other countrys.

As is so often the case, information I had was not entirely accurate. I was disappointed to find that a memorial to be built in Ennis had never been built*** and when I headed out for Adare Manor, I found the Tom Kane had sold the manor and returned to the U.S., bringing the statue with him.

Someone told me that he had moved to Florida.

Once home, I began to try to find him. I came up with an email address and hoped against hope that it was still in use.  It was.

I contacted him in Florida and asked him how I might see the memorial as I was to be in Florida very soon.

The memorial, he explained, was not in Florida and my heart sank. He told me he had donated it to the Museum of the Marine Corp in Triangle, Virginia.

Right in my back yard. It had been less than an hour away from me for a couple of years.

I went to the Museum of the Marine Corp in Triangle, Virginia to, finally, get to see, honor, and photograph the last of the three statues, the one that had been in Ireland for many years.

The first person I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about but steered me to some docents whom, he assured me could help. Nope. No idea what I was talking about, but they sent me to the information desk as they had maps of everything at the museum.


The very nice lady there was sure it was at the smaller museum, across the street on the Marine Corp base at Quantico.

I walked out of the museum and decided that it just didn't make sense to put a significant statue at a small museum where not too many people might have access, so I decided to just walk around a bit and see what I could find.

The museum consists of a large building in which there are a number of rooms dedicated to a variety of Marine Corp actions. Outside, there is a long, winding path through a wooded area with memorials to many Marine Corp units and I decided to wonder through them.

It only took about five minutes to find the memorial. I was thrilled. I took my pictures and even ran across a couple of more dedicated to actions in 'Nam. After taking my pics, I went back inside and showed the folks there were it was. They seemed happy to get the information. The issue seemed to be that they called it something else on their maps.

Triangle, Virginia, formerly Adare Manor, Ireland

The journey within the journey was now complete. I had traveled to Colorado, California, Ireland, and finally Virginia and found all three memorials while continuing my effort to visit Vietnam Memorials in every state and now in Ireland, too, even if it had moved to my backyard.

*More than 2500 Irish citizens came to America and Australia specifically to join the military and fight in 'Nam. Many are listed upon The Wall in DC including Pam Donovan, one of the 8 women honored there.
** that number has grown to twenty nine over the years.
*** I have since read that the memorial in Ennis has, now, been built, so I guess I'll be heading back to Ireland in the, hopefully, not too distant future. 
Next time, on the 6th, we will return to Alabama, so meet me there, as always, at 9:00am.
To see additional memorials from Virginia, or any other state, please click on the state name on the left side of this page.

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