Vietnam veterans securing place of honor in downtown Bryan, Texas
The Eagle, Bryan, Texas
BRYAN, Texas — Local Vietnam veterans want the community to know about the 50 or so from Brazos Valley who never made it home from the war: These soldiers will not be forgotten.
That message was the focus Sunday afternoon during a groundbreaking ceremony for what will become a 10-foot-tall Brazos Valley Vietnam Memorial that will be constructed outside the Clara B. Mounce Public Library in Downtown Bryan.
About 300 people showed up for the event, which was organized by the Vietnam Veterans of America-local chapter 937.
VVA member Jack Faulkner said he spent 11 months, 19 days and four hours serving in the Vietnam War.
"Not that I was counting," he said in an interview after the ceremony.
Faulkner said the memorial project to honor troops from the Brazos Valley who died in combat has been in the works for several years.
A committee of roughly 60 people came up with the monument's concept, a bronze statue capped off by a fallen soldier memorial -- boots, dog tags and an inverted rifle holding up a helmet. Around the statue's base will be panels that list the names of troops who either lived in the Brazos Valley or have family living here, as well as some facts about Vietnam and the 58,193 Americans who died in the conflict.
"I think [the memorial] envisions the future as we look forward to more years of freedom," Faulkner said.
Sunday's ceremony featured patriotic performances from the Rudder High School band, poetry readings and a message from keynote speaker Lt. Gen. Joe Weber.
"I'm really amazed to see how many people are in attendance today," said Weber, the vice president for student affairs at Texas A&M.
Weber, a 1972 graduate of A&M, was in college while "across the seas, all hell was breaking loose."
In his speech, Weber highlighted the strife of the era -- assassinations of the president and civil rights leaders, and the shooting deaths of four students on an America campus by the U.S. National Guard -- and noted that today's problems seem to pale in comparison.
"Every day, I say to myself 'We came out of that,'" he said.
The fallen soldiers weren't the only focus on Sunday.
Weber said the real heroes are the families who stood strong while their fathers, sons and brothers went to war.
Bea Powell is one such hero who was recognized during the event. Powell had four sons volunteer to serve in the Vietnam War and all four returned safely home.
"It was trying every day listening to the news and wondering if they're going to come notify you," she said.
Texas A&M student Matt Greeson was one of 10 cadets at the ceremony representing the Aggies who died in Vietnam.
"It was a pretty emotional experience," said the sophomore.
Greeson said he and the other cadets in attendance plan to go into military service after graduation. For him, it's about fulfilling a family tradition by following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps.
"[The ceremony] is a cool reminder of how great America is. You don't see this in other countries," Greeson said.
Fundraising continues for the memorial, which is expected to cost $70,000.
Faulkner said there will be some special markers, such as stones and benches around the monument, that will be available for those who want to make larger donations.