BY JAKE SCHUESSLER
The 241-foot wall at the Dinuba Memorial Building in Central California, an exact replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., displays the names of more than 58, 000 men and women who died in the war. Approximately half the size of The Wall, this is the only permanent replica west of the Rocky Mountains. VVA member Joe Rivera is president of the replica project. “I lost a lot of friends in Vietnam, thirteen from my high school alone, and I wanted to bring them back, ” Rivera said. His first challenge was identifying a site that was big enough to fit the monument.
Rivera used his own money to have design plans drawn up, then he and members of the local American Legion went site-shopping. “We worked with the city to identify four or five park sites, then decided as a group which one would be most accessible to the public and appropriate for the monument itself, ” Rivera said. After the Dinuba Memorial Building was chosen, the fundraising started.
Rivera signed a contract to design the wall, and the city of Dinuba donated $5, 000 to support the campaign. With the help of other vets, Rivera began collecting donations from individuals and local businesses, offering plaques for donations of $1, 000 or more to be installed at the site, and commemorative bricks for a $100 donation.
He continues to raise funds through community events, such as a recent benefit concert featuring a mariachi band and the Tejano music legend Little Joe y la Familia. Other fundraisers have included a golf tournament and a motorcycle ride featuring the Soft Thunder Riders Motorcycle Club. Each event was run completely by volunteers. So far, more than $50, 000 has been raised toward the $177, 000 goal.
The replica wall in Dinuba was installed last spring and dedicated on April 30, the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. A motorcycle brigade with the memorial in tow drove through several towns around Dinuba before it was installed at the site. Plans include adding an extended walkway, lighting, and landscaping around the monument. Memorials dedicated to World War II, the Korean War, and other veterans are being tentatively planned for the memorial park.
Northern Utah Chapter 1079 also is working to raise funds for a replica wall. This one will be 80 percent as large as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. The city of Layton donated a park where the memorial will be installed. So far, more than $35, 000 has been raised toward the fundraising goal of $400, 000.
The chapter has hosted car shows, bake sales, and fun runs to raise money, in addition to selling bricks for dedication and placement around the wall.
Chapter President Dennis Howland hopes the project also will lay the foundation for a memorial park dedicated to veterans of all wars. Should the fundraising be successful, the monument will be installed by Veterans Day 2016. To help Chapter 1079 complete its memorial project, go to:www.gofundme.com/v9hacw4
Michael P. Callahan Memorial Chapter 955 in Wildwood, New Jersey , unveiled its own replica wall, 250 feet long and made of black granite, in 2010. Each of the granite panels, seventy-four in total, has a sponsor. The project was completed without any funding from state, federal, or local governments. Members of Carpenters Local 1743 and 623 donated their time for the construction, along with companies such as Bayshore Rebar, Inc.
The replica wall project was proposed by former Chapter President Greg Mazzotta, who had admired the Moving Wall when it visited Wildwood in 2008. He died before the installation could be organized. The chapter proceeded with the project—in part to honor his memory, as well as the legacies of all veterans who were lost, not just those in Vietnam. For more information, go to www.wildwoodswall.com