More than 4000 people, about twice what was expected from the 4-states, came together to remember those that gave their lives and to honor the living that served to preserve freedom in the United States. They assembled during the Memorial Day 2004 holiday to dedicate the Veteran's Memorial in Pittsburg. Among the hundreds of veterans and their families were recipients of the Medal of Honor and Gold Star. The memorial is located at Rouse and Ford near the Pittsburg State Tech Center.
The idea of a Veteran’s Memorial was first suggested by Dr. Joseph Smoot in the early 1990s when he was the vice-president for development at Pittsburg State University. A number of people were significant in the memorial's development and promotion including Larry Salzman from Girard who advanced the idea of the memorial and was responsible for making important connections with John Devitt, owner of the “Moving Wall.” Dr. James Aubuchon served as the project director and coordinator. Hundreds of donors made possible its construction and completion.
Devitt, a former helicopter gunner in Vietnam and president of the Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd was inspired by the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. The result of this was the construction of three traveling, one-half scale Vietnam Walls. Through his relationship with Salzman, one of the traveling walls was brought to Girard, Kansas in 1994 and visited by more than 50,000 people. Devitt graciously donated one of the walls to become a permanent part of the Veteran’s Memorial. Constance Ernatt, an artist from Wichita, created two original pieces for the memorial, the “Secure the Blessings of Freedom” (an eagle) and the “Peace of Tranquility” (doves circling the world).
Photos and commentary by Dr. Stephen L. Timme, Dept. of Biology, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, KS
Former Senator Bob Dole gave the keynote address as part of the dedication ceremonies. He provided the audience with some humor and an understanding of the importance of remembering those who served to preserve freedom. For this former Vietnam vet, the most moving and important part of his speech was a formal apology to all Vietnam veterans for the way we were treated upon our return home from the war.
The Rolling Thunder, Kansas City St. Andrew Pipes and Drums, the Army Reserve Band and several speech-makers were part of the ceremonies. An emotional moment included The Seat for the Missing and the Tiger Cage Ceremony.
Entry into the amphitheater is by a path that moves from the exterior to the interior through crevices between two interlocking earthen forms. This allows for a transition from the familiar to an attitude of quiet respect. The interior includes the Vietnam Memorial Wall, a reflective pool, an eternal flame, the Walk of Honor, and seating at the southern edge. The Walk of Honor is part of the plaza that in part surrounds the reflective pool. The plaza consists of hundreds of pavers honoring veterans and veteran organizations.
As a former infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division serving in northern South Vietnam, the memorial for me is both a reminder of the sacrifice of many and offers a place of serenity to reflect and honor the fallen and the wounded, and all those that served in all wars in order to preserve a way of life that few nations enjoy.