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January/February 2010

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BY ALBERT J. NAHAS

That these dead shall not have died in vain;

That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom;

And that this government of the people, by the people, for the people

Shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s words are engraved on what is likely the first state-approved Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Vermont Vietnam Veterans Memorial, an unadorned granite monument reflecting the rugged individualism and strong patriotism of Vermont, stands in silent watch at the Sharon rest stop on I-89. Looking south, the beauty of the valley resembles Highway One in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

The mid-1970s saw the establishment in Vermont of the Project to Advance Veterans’ Education. PAVE’s goals were to keep veterans in school, to help them with employment and health issues, and to secure upgraded discharges. In December 1979, this outreach led to the establishment in Rutland of VVA Chapter 1.

By 1981, the idea for a memorial for fallen comrades began to surface. Montpelier, the state capital, was a natural choice, but the beauty and accessibility of Sharon led to acceptance of this rest stop as a better location. An approved site, the donation of a consensus-choice monument, and state approval in early 1982 led to a dedication two weeks before the dedication of The Wall in Washington, D.C.

In 1995, driven by budget necessities, the Vermont Legislature sought to close all highway rest stops. But an outcry from the veterans’ community succeeded in permanently preserving the one at Sharon. 

The culmination of a long-held dream came true in 2005 with the rededication of the memorial and a new Welcome Center. The same tall granite is now protected by interlocking river rock walls partially encircled by five service flags and the flag of Vermont.  Imbedded in the walls are 138 marble outcroppings, candle holders for annual Memorial Day Eve vigils for those Vermonters killed or missing during the war. An eternal flame marks the memorial entrance. 

The Welcome Center has become a destination dedicated to the history of the Vietnam War and those who fought it. More than 7,200 names of Vermont Vietnam veterans are listed on the Center’s Honor Roll Column. Timelines track concurrent events from Vietnam, Vermont, and U.S. history. The Center uses green geothermal heating and cooling and its greenhouse, filled with Asian plants typical of Vietnam, helps filter and recycle waste water. 

Vermont also has the Vermont Patriots Medal, given to “the next of kin of each Vermont serviceman whose life is given in an armed conflict.” Authorized in 1966 for families of those killed in Vietnam, the medal was never funded and nearly forgotten. Rediscovered thirty years later, an amended bill made funds available for the medal and it was first presented to Vietnam veterans’ surviving families on September 21, 1996. The bill has since been amended to include the families of Vermonters killed in all wars. 

Legend has it that I-89 is the “road less traveled” by Vietnam veterans, since it is the most direct route from the northeast seaboard to Canada. Some veterans believe another legend: that this site was chosen 138 miles from the border so the memorial’s 138 names would be plainly visible to draft evaders returning from Canada down I-89, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway, and across the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge into New Hampshire.

Dedication: October 30, 1982, and August 20, 2005.

Acknowledgements: John Miner, founder of VVA Chapter 601, former Vermont VVA State Council President and VVA National Board member; Rick Weidman, PAVE Chair, VVA Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs.

Directions: I-89 northbound at Welcome Center south of Sharon.

Architect: Tim Smith & Associates, Bennington, Vermont.


Albert Nahas’ Warriors Remembered is a photo book of Vietnam veterans memorials. Scheduled to be published Memorial Day, the book contains photographs and stories from more than eighty-five memorials in all fifty states. It can be previewed at www.warriorsremembered.com

 

 

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