The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

July 2003
FEATURE ARTICLE
   
 

More Than The Arch: A Visitor's Tour of St. Louis Area Veterans Memorials

BY MARC LEEPSON


No list of visitor attractions in the St. Louis area - where, the local Convention and Visitors Commission reminds us, "There's more than meets the Arch'' - would be complete without taking note of the area's veterans memorials, including two of the earliest Vietnam Veterans memorials in nearby Wentzville and O'Fallon, Missouri.

The small town of Wentzville is about 40 miles west of St. Louis, off I-70. In December 1967 the citizens of Wentzville strung a 30-foot tree with lights in honor of the town's military men serving in Vietnam. The memorial's original intention was to raise funds to send Christmas gifts to local men and women serving in Vietnam.

The following year, two local artists created a sculpture for the site, and in 1984 a larger memorial was dedicated. The Wentzville Vietnam Veterans Memorial today is a tall column crafted of red Missouri granite, with an eagle perched at its top.

The city of O'Fallon, just east of Wentzville, dedicated the Omar Dames Memorial in September 1969. The simple granite memorial honors 19 men from the area who perished in the Vietnam War. O'Fallon also has one of the nation's newest veterans memorials: the striking Veteran's Memorial Walk, which was dedicated on Veterans Day 2001. VVA Mid-Rivers Chapter 458, led by then chapter president Sheldon Hartsfield, was the moving force in the memorial's creation.

``I was appointed chair of the Mayor's Veterans Advisory Committee in 1999,'' Hartsfield said. ``Eighteen months later we dedicated the memorial. The chapter was the main force behind the memorial. We babysat the thing from start to finish. We dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's.''

The $279,000 memorial consists of 64 pairs of bronzed boots, installed left foot forward as though marching, set in a plaza in front of five, twelve-foot-tall, white granite and stainless steel monoliths. The monoliths are dedicated to each of the services. A flag pole, set by itself with one pair of boots, honors POW/MIAs.

``The boots represent a reinforced platoon,'' said Hartsfield, who serves as VVA's Eastern District of Missouri director. ``In the middle of the formation a pair is missing. That pair is set in front of the POW/MIA flag at attention to signify they're moving.''

In September, the second phase of the memorial is due to be completed: installation of an eternal flame honoring POW/MIAs. In 2004 the third and final phase, a park behind the memorial dotted with paths, benches, and life-like military statues, is scheduled to be built.

In the city of St. Louis, at 1315 Chestnut Street, is the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, St. Louis' tribute to those who lost their lives in the nation's wars. The museum, which opened to the public on Memorial Day 1938, is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, and does not charge admission. It contains two exhibit rooms filled with uniforms, photographs, weapons, war souvenirs, posters, and other memorabilia, predominantly from World War II.

Across the street is the Court of Honor, dedicated in 1948, containing memorials to those who died in the nation's other wars. The names of the city's 2,753 service members who died in World War II are inscribed on red granite tablets. The grounds also contain monuments honoring the 161 St. Louisans who died in Korea and the 214 who lost their lives in Vietnam. A total of 1,411 service members from Missouri perished in the war.

VVA St. Louis Chapter 611 had the honor of presenting the colors at a Flag Retirement Ceremony at Soldiers Memorial on Flag Day 2003. Taking part were chapter members Terry Souders, Mike Young, Rick Luby, Chris Nielsen, and Captain of the Guard Floyd Casey.

The Veteran's Memorial that sits on a grassy knoll near the City Center in St. Peters, Missouri, which is also located west of St. Louis, contains an array of flags, including the American and POW/MIA flags, and two statues, one of a WWII soldier and the other of a woman in uniform standing on either side of a simple stone monument. Plans to expand that memorial include adding three circular pools of water with helmet and rifle sculptures honoring those who died in America's wars.

About 50 miles southwest of St. Louis, in St. Clair, is the Franklin County Vietnam Memorial, which was dedicated on Memorial Day 1987. The granite memorial is made up of three panels. The left panel contains the inscription: ``For those who served in Vietnam,'' along with a map of the county surrounded by the five service emblems. The right panel contains a reproduction of Frederick Hart's ``Three Servicemen'' statue and the words, ``They gave their full measure of devotion.''

The eight-foot-tall center section is inscribed with the names of the 24 Franklin County servicemen who were killed in action in Southeast Asia and the POW/MIA symbol. It includes the words:



At the veils of twilight
And dawn's early light
We'll hear their voice
And not break faith.

   

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