Arizona Veterans: Vietnam War Memorial

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Plans for a nearly full-sized replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. were recently announced for a 7.7 acre park in Gilbert. The site for the 80% scale replica of the wall will also feature an education center for visiting K-12 graders and a Veteran’s Resource Center.

Our continuing look at veterans' issues through our veterans coming home series focuses on a new park being built in Gilbert dedicated to veterans from across generations. Producer Allysa Adams talks to those helping to make veterans park a reality.

Allysa Adams: With the military introduction -- in a dusty lot in Gilbert, hundreds of military veterans and families dedicate a park with a simple message.

Video: Welcome home. Welcome home. [applause]

Allysa Adams: Welcome home park is a seven acre shout-out to veterans who never got the word 40 years ago.

Skip Erikson: I was actually deployed over to Vietnam in April 1968.

Allysa Adams: Skip Erickson was a crew chief in the Air Force. His job, to make sure the fighters Jets were ready for their daily missions.

Skip Erikson: Ours was more like normal service. Board le this lob in some rockets, mortars. They tried to invade the base, the enemy.

John Chiazza: At night mostly it was shelling, a lot of it at night. The hills right behind the harbor, they would illuminate the harbor every half hour.

Allysa Adams: John served in the Navy during the Vietnam war. He remembers when he first arrived after 21 days at sea.

John Chiazza: You start seeing Jets flying by, helicopters all over. Then you realize it's great seeing land but this land I'm going into is torn apart by war and this is for real.

Roger Pollard: By the time I got to Nam I was a captain but the military intelligence division.

Allysa Adams: Roger Pollard was drafted into the Army at 20 years old.

Roger Pollard: We were at the cross of two canals. There were no roads. The only way in and out was by boat, about an hour and a half to province or by chopper which is faster, more desirable because bad things happen on the canal.

Allysa Adams: The three men served in different branches of the military, different areas of Vietnam. Their jobs and experiences with battle were all different in a war that was as muddy as the Waters they encountered. But they all came home to the same sting.

Skip Erikson: It was lousy. It was not a lot of fun to come home. I was welcomed home by my mom, my dad, my brothers. That's it. I certainly wasn't unique.

Roger Pollard: Nobody really came up and said, nobody shook my hand, said thanks, welcome home.

Allysa Adams: The United States was a country divided. The soldiers got blamed for a battle they didn't begin. That's what brings them all here to this barren lot that holds the promise of redemption.

Skip Erikson: This isn't a bunch of old guys trying to build themselves a monument. I wouldn't be involved if it was just the wall. A whole concept of the park is its welcome home veteran's park. A veterans' park. Not necessarily just a Vietnam veteran's park.

Allysa Adams: It will include recognition of soldiers who fought in America's first wars. There will be an education center and veterans outreach center. The anchor will be a replica of the Vietnam war memorial.

Skip Erikson: Anybody our generation you're going to know ten, 10, 30 folks even if you weren't in that service. Classmates, neighbors. Relatives.

Allysa Adams: All three men have been to the wall in Washington. Standing before the thousands of etched names they say they all felt the weight of their time in Vietnam.

John Chiazza: It was tough. Because it just gave a whole look at something that happened in my life that I was part of and here I was lucky to come back. But there was guys from that wall that didn't.

Roger Pollard: I realize that I saw people about my age, the age of my son Zachary there. They were touching the wall, touching their name. I thought, oh, my gosh -- you know. Their father is on the wall. That was tough because I thought I was lucky. You know. Very lucky to have a son and have a grandchild now. And I must admit that's tough. That works on you.

Allysa Adams: But these survivors are proud to bring the power of that wall to Arizona.

John Chiazza: Other veterans that are Vietnam veterans, in California, they probably can't make it back to D.C., either affordability or age, you know, not being able to actually make it, that they will have something to actually go to.

Allysa Adams: To make sure that each generation learns from its past.

Skip Erikson: I'm proud of everybody here today. Just the way we do welcome them home. Say thanks. It's the right thing to do.

Allysa Adams: And to help welcome their fellow veterans home.

Roger Pollard: We're still feeling after all these years, Vietnam vets are still healing but they also want others to realize that we can never do that again. Question never treat veterans like that again. [playing taps]

Ted Simons: The Vietnam wall will be an 80% scale replica of the memorial in Washington. It hopes to be open to visitors by Veterans' Day 2017.

Ted Simons: Wednesday a national convention of rail transportation leaders are meeting in Phoenix and we'll look at the state of Arizona's movie industry at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have great evening.

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

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Video: Stories of veterans coming home on Arizona PBS are made possible by a grant from CPB, the corporation for public broadcasting.

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