Eight veterans stood in a line Friday morning as rain drops rolled over black marble stone at what will be Akron’s only Vietnam memorial.
The soldiers faced the stone — which read “IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO GAVE ALL” — and saluted 93 who did not get to come home from the war.
Every Akron, Ohio veteran who died in the Vietnam War will have a place to be remembered in their city.
The memorial has been built by the generosity and persistence of Goodyear Heights volunteers, a local Vietnam veterans chapter, an Eagle Scout from Stow and one gruffy veteran.
The work-in-progress memorial is located at Watson Park — a grassy, triangular lot in Goodyear Heights sandwiched between Malasia Road, Watson Street and Wingfoot Way.
In the middle of the park, Stow resident Joe Rebuck — then an Eagle Scout candidate — worked with his Cub Scout troop to install benches and a flagpole.
Beneath the flagpole, VVA Chapter 900 placed the stone. And in the concrete that astens the stone to its foundation, tucked away for the ages, chapter member Mike Hoofman placed a Purple Heart pin.
“Nobody will ever know it’s there. Well, maybe now they might, ” said chapter president Lee Fisher. “It’s just our little way of saying rest in peace.”
“It’s the least we can do, ” Fisher continued. “We made it back, so we try to do whatever we can. We’re still serving.”
Fisher said his veterans group became aware of the plan to transform Watson Park into ‘Vietnam Veterans Park’ after the Beacon Journal reported a year ago that Residents Improving Goodyear Heights Together (RIGHT) had partnered with a would-be Eagle Scout to raise a POW flag on the site.
The neighborhood volunteer group is now securing funding to install the 93 bricks. Each will carry the name of a fallen Vietnam soldier from Akron. The bricks will be placed in the ground in a circular pattern radiating from the flag pole and stone monument, RIGHT President Sharon Connor said.
Nearly 30 years ago, Akron officials set aside money to plant trees and install commemorative plaques around the city to honor each of its 93 fallen Vietnam soldiers.
But the plan fell through, and city officials can’t recall what happened to the plaques. Nearly 20 plaques, with the names of soldiers from Goodyear Heights, found a home on the corners of Watson Park. And the grassy triangle became the closest thing to a Vietnam memorial in Akron.
But over the years, blades spinning beneath city-owned lawn mowers curled up the edges on the metal plaques. Today, only a dozen remain.
Despite the city’s languished effort to remember its own, the veterans cannot forget.
“The park was never forgotten. The city wanted nothing to do with it, ” said Charles Maerean, a member of the Akron Vietnam veterans group. Maerean, 62, once took care of Watson Park for the city. He said his pugnacious demeanor chasing firecrackers and unruly children off the property didn’t bode well with neighbors. When he showed up on a Saturday in 1987 to water plants with a beer in his hand, he said the city let him go.
Today, Maerean mulches the property and follows city lawn mowers with his own weed whacker. He takes umbrage with neighborhood dogs, and their owners, who soil the now sacred park.
It was Maerean who encouraged the local Vietnam veterans chapter to purchase the $2, 500 stone monument — which Bob Daily of Daily Monument in Kent discounted to meet the group’s limited pocketbook.