A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

October/November 1998

A Day of Great Emotion: The Dedication of the Culpeper Vietnam Veterans Memorial
By Marc Leepson

Nearly twenty years ago, Margaret Prowoznik set out on a quest to build a memorial honoring the men from the Piedmont area of Virginia who died in Vietnam—a group that included her son, Edward O. Spencer. She tried to interest the folks at the local VFW and American Legion chapters in the idea and was turned down. She went to the Culpeper Town Council and then to the County Board of Supervisors and received the same response. "Nobody in the county would listen," said Sam Thompson, president of VVA's Piedmont Area Chapter 752 in Culpeper, about sixty miles southwest of Washington, D.C.

Nobody, that is, until Thompson and a group of other Vietnam veterans started Chapter 752 in June of 1995. "Margaret heard about our chapter," Thompson said, "and contacted one of our charter members, Hans Heinz, who was then an active-duty Marine colonel. Hans presented her idea at our November meeting and by January [1996] we decided to undertake the project."

In September 1996 the chapter received approval from the Board of Supervisors to place the memorial on the grounds of the old Culpeper County Courthouse. Then came the fund-raising, which included dances, raffles, and barbeque dinners. The money raised from those events, along with donations from individuals and area businesses, added up to some $12,000.

The chapter came up with a design based on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, and a nearby architectural firm volunteered to draw up the plans. A local funeral home, Found and Sons, helped arrange the purchase and shipment of the granite from Georgia, and the memorial's dedication was set for Veterans Day 1997.

But a funny thing happened a week before the dedication as workers were putting the finishing touches on the memorial. "They were in the process of laying down the sealer, using a pry bar to lift the panels, when the largest panel cracked in half," Thompson said. "Every panel was damaged." The Veterans Day dedication had to be canceled.

The incident, Thompson said, "turned out to be a blessing in disguise." The panels were covered by Found and Sons' insurance, and several misspellings in the original panels were corrected on the replacements. "And we had plenty of time to plan out the ceremony," Thompson said. "We wanted to give the community a ceremony to be proud of."

Eventually, the Culpeper Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 25. The memorial is constructed of highly polished black granite. Etched on the memorial are the names of nineteen men from the five-county area around Culpeper who died in the Vietnam War. The memorial's dedication reads: "Dedicated to all those from the Piedmont Area who served and died in the Vietnam War, 1959-1975."

The speakers at the memorial's dedication included Culpeper Mayor Waller Jones; Gail Coates-Dodson, the sister of Floyd Coates, whose name is etched on the memorial; Charlie Montgomery, president of VVA's Virginia State Council; and Col. Robert L. Howard, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War.

Thompson gave the welcoming remarks and thanked the members of the chapter and the citizens and businesses whose donations made the memorial possible. Col. Howard "reminded us that life, liberty, and God are not only worth fighting for, but they also are worth dying for," Thompson said. "His speech moved many in the audience to tears."

After the speeches were over, Ellis Smith, Chapter 752's first vice president, read aloud the names of the men on the memorial, and flowers were presented to family members in attendance. The family members were escorted to the base of the memorial where they placed the flowers in a pair of jungle boots. As a final gesture of respect, each of the nineteen families was presented with a flag and a rose. The last flag was presented to Margaret Prowoznik and her husband, who have been adopted as special members of Chapter 752.

The dedication ceremonies ended with a gun salute and the playing of "Taps." "When the ceremony ended, all of us in the chapter felt a tremendous feeling of relief along with a feeling of great accomplishment," Thompson said. "It was a day of great emotion and patriotism."

 

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