Replica wall honors Vietnam War troops
On a hot, sunny afternoon above a dusty stretch of highway in Perry County, workers mold a concrete cap over a series of black granite plinths with names etched from top to bottom, side to side.
It's the next stage of a project that began with one man's promise to himself in Vietnam, in 1968, after he fought in the Tet Offensive: if he made it home, he'd find a way to honor the people he fought with, and others who had served the country.
But, Jim Eddleman said, he never dreamed it would be this big.
Veterans Memorial Parkway extends from Highway V near Perryville, Missouri, into 43 acres of former farmland Eddleman donated to the project. From the parking lot, entry into the Welcome Center has a wide sidewalk, and grand foyer.
Inside, an all-denomination chapel has views of the wall -- in fact, nearly every room in the center has a view of it.
Eddleman walks through the gift shop and onto a plaza honoring the military's five branches, and gets into a golf cart.
The drive there is partly paved, and lights are in place. The Ste. Genevieve Rotary Club donated a bench. As the pavement gives way to concrete, the wall itself begins, small panels at first, gradually leading to the tallest plinths, the last of which was put into place Aug. 28.
An artist in Farmington, Missouri, engraved each soldier's name in an exact replica of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C., Eddleman said.
And he does mean an exact replica. The Missouri National Veterans Memorial in Perryville is an exact, full-scale replica of the Washington memorial, down to the misspellings of some soldiers' names, said MNVM board president Don Fulford.
Fulford, who is also president and CEO of the Association of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, said he joined the board as "the not-for-profit guy," ready to help with fundraising.
To begin, he said, at least three years ago, the board had only five members: himself, Frank Robinson of Robinson Construction, Vicki and Mike Lundy, and Todd Hooper of TG Missouri.
And the donor was anonymous, Fulford said.
Initially, the conversation was about a small memorial, Fulford said, but "I said, 'Let's go big.'"
The wall is made of the same black granite as the memorial wall in Washington, and is oriented to the sun in the same way, Fulford said.
And the American flag and POW/MIA flag? Those are from the Washington memorial wall -- the Perryville representatives traded their own flags for those that flew over the Washington memorial wall.
The board members went to meet with the original people behind the wall in Washington, Fulford said.
"We learned from them," he said.
And they've added board members, he said.
"Something I've learned about the Vietnam War, a lot of the sadness, tragedies, how the veterans were treated, it inspired me to learn more about American history," Fulford said, adding the way veterans were treated even as they returned home on buses, told to put on their civilian clothing "so they wouldn't be spat on. You hear about those things, and I think now's our time to say, 'Hey, we get it now. We made some mistakes then. As a nation, we're grateful.'"
A reflecting pool and more monuments are planned for the monument, Fulford said, to bring a sense of peace to the place.
And, he said, Perryville has an advantage over Washington: There is no distraction or hassle of a big city. There is only a beautiful, reflective space that allows for healing.
"A lot of these men came from America's heartland," Fulford said. "This is what we're offering. This is America's wall, this is who you are, and we appreciate what you did."
Looking back over the wall, Eddleman smiles. "I was beginning to wonder if I'd get this done," he said, as it's been 50 years since his service. "But it's turned out to be the most exciting thing."
Eddleman says he's met so many people who have heard about the memorial wall and come to visit, to remember.
"I can say now, it was a promise made, and a promise kept," Eddleman said.
On Sept. 21 and 22, a candlelight vigil will be held at the wall in Perryville, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday. A morning service will be held Saturday.
A grand opening of the site is planned May 18, 2019.
More information is online at mnvmfund.org.