ROCKVILLE—Vietnam Veterans gathered at Memorial Plaza to dedicate the new site to the Montgomery County soldiers who passed away or never came back home from war on May 21.
The memorial wall was installed a year ago and has 130 names of service members from the county who were killed or reported missing in action from 1955-1975.
“We did this in memory of those who did not come back,” said Michael Subin who serves as the county executive’s representative on the Commission of Veterans Affairs. “We did this because many of us lose the opportunity to honor the memories of our fallen brothers and sisters who died in service.”
The ceremony was hosted by the Commission of Veterans Affairs which worked with the county over the last few years to find a central location to honor Vietnam Veterans.
“It took our commission a long time to have this important memorial established and find the right place for it,” said Daniel Bullis, who serves as chair of the commission. “Now our mission is to make sure that the 130 veterans whose names are on the wall and their families are never forgotten for the sacrifices they made for our country.”
According to the commission, the memorial wall was designed by Architect Randy Hawkins. Bullis commented that the wall is an effective memorial because it makes people stop and think.
“The location is fantastic,” said Imants Celtnieks who served between 1967 and 1968. “I mean it’s the middle of town, but it’s closed in, it’s bright, it’s very quiet also even though we have a major road here.”
The plaza faces Jefferson Street and although cars and buses were driving back and forth during the ceremony, the plaza stayed quiet thanks in part to a fountain that drowned out the street noise.
Former County Executive Isiah Leggett also attended the ceremony.
Leggett served in 1969 and has played an integral role in the creation and placement of the memorial.
During his time as county executive, Leggett created the Commission of Veterans Affairs in 2008. He explained that a memorial to Vietnam veterans was something they had wanted for many years.
Memorial Plaza, as it looks today, was many years in the making. Leggett explained that the memorial wall was the last addition to the plaza. First renovations were made to the buildings directly adjacent, like the modern addition to the courthouse.
“This got done probably four months before I left office,” Leggett said. “The hold up was basically all the things around here because we wanted to have the proper setting and not to have this ceremony during construction, so this is the last touch.”
He explained that the memorial wall was always something that he and the commission wanted to do.
“We just had to get it right,” he said.
Stephen Campanella is a member of the commission and attended the ceremony on Tuesday.
He explained that the commission went through about three years of looking at sites for the memorial before agreeing on Memorial Plaza.
“There were several spots in Wheaton, there was a place in Gaithersburg, and finally they brought it here where this is where it belongs,” he said.
Campanella explained that the wall is important to him because there are people he grew up with that lost their lives in Vietnam honored on it.
“This is important because I got six guys who I went to grade school with that are on that wall,” he said.
Michael Walsh also grew up with Campanella and has names of childhood friends on the wall too.
He explained that although he is only a casual attendee of the commission, over the past years, he has been vocal about needing a memorial like this one.
He said he would attend commission meetings to “poke” the members to remind them of the project.
Walsh explained that he was even allowed to paint the name of one of his friends who passed in the war on the marble stone before it was etched and installed.
Leggett noted in his remarks just how young many of these soldiers were when they signed up and shipped off.
“They were denied the opportunity to go on and raise families, to attend weddings,” Leggett said. “If we had a ceremony like this every year, it would never be enough because we can never fully pay it back.”