Forty years after they returned from combat, local veterans of the Vietnam War are getting the honor that too often was overlooked.
At the time, the war was unpopular and controversial. Too often, those opinions were expressed to the men who served both voluntarily and through the draft.
They were never properly thanked for the sacrifices they made.
That’s why one group is planning to add a memorial for Vietnam War veterans this summer to a New Whiteland park.
The stone monument will feature the 1,532 names of Indiana soldiers who died in the conflict and serve as what supporters hope is a fitting honor for overlooked veterans.
“We all want to do something to make it better. We can’t change the past, but we want to let these folks know that they are appreciated,” said Maribeth Alspach, New Whiteland clerk-treasurer. “We hope this is a place where they can come and people can reflect.”
Proctor Park was created in 2007 as a way to honor those in the armed services, law enforcement, fire protection and emergency services. It was named for Sgt. Joseph Proctor, a Whiteland graduate who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
The park is 11 acres, with monuments to Proctor and all of those who serve to protect the country. Flags of each military branch fly at the entrance, and a playground and shelter house make the park an ideal spot for families.
Volunteer organizers envision the Vietnam memorial as a group of five 6½-foot-tall limestone brick columns. Each brick will be engraved with the name of an Indiana soldier killed in the Vietnam War. Another column, 3 feet tall, will be placed at the center of the group.
The idea for a Vietnam War-specific memorial started two years ago. Park organizers were dedicating the Hoosier Heroes Wall, a monument honoring all of the Indiana soldiers who had died since Sept. 11, 2001.
During the ceremony, Alspach addressed the Vietnam War veterans. She asked them to step forward, and she thanked them for their service.
“They never got any parade or welcome home,” she said. “There weren’t people at the airport waiting for them or people who would see them in uniform and pick up their bill when they were out to eat.”
From that point, the community started discussing a way to properly recognize those veterans.
“They did what their country asked them to do,” Alspach said. “We are trying to do something to show our appreciation. These men have never quit giving.”
The response has been immediate. Businesses have donated the concrete for the monument base to rest on.
Mark Trina, a U.S. Navy veteran, will inscribe the bricks for free. Another Navy veteran, Dan Wilson, is donating his time to build the pillars.
Organizers hope to raise about $38,000 to have the monument erected. A $25 donation for each of the 1,532 Indiana men who died in the Vietnam War will achieve that goal.
The memorial will be dedicated Sept. 27, during a welcome-home motorcycle ride in honor of Vietnam veterans. Rolling Thunder, a veterans motorcycle group, will do a roll call for the 51 people unaccounted from the war.
“It’s going to be a very emotional event,” Alspach said.