VVA Chapter 142 & The New Michigan Vietnam
BY JIM BELSHAW
Wouldn't it look
nice if a veterans' museum sat in this place?
Chapter 142, Monroe County, Mich.
What began as a passing question five years ago between two
Vietnam veterans came to fruition in August with the formal
dedication of the Monroe County Vietnam Veterans
Museum, only the fifth museum in the nation dedicated solely to
the Vietnam War.
The collaborative effort between VVA Chapter 142 and the Monroe
County Board of
Commissioners had its beginning when two chapter membersone of
whom was a County Commissionerone day discussed how the chapter
might educate the public about the Vietnam War.
Chapter 142 Public Affairs Chair Glenn Podhola said the chapter
had been an active
participant in the planning for the museum from the moment of its
conception. The chapter has dedicated itself to collecting
materials for the museum and intends to make it an educational
venue for local schools and a recreational destination reaching
well beyond the borders of the county.
Chapter members have donated memorabilia collected during their
tours of duty in Vietnam. Podhola said that before the idea was
discussed, the chapter already had in place a mechanism that eased
the way to its participation.
"We already had a long-range planning team for Heck Park," he
said. "One day one of the chapter members mentioned to the County
Commissioner that it would be great to have a Vietnam War museum.
The Commissioner took it to heart, discussed the idea with other
Commissioners, and eventually the Commissioners appropriated the
money for a combination museum and pavilion."
Getting on board with the Commission and Chapter 142 were dozens
of local groups,
businesses, and individuals. The county allocated $160,000 and
construction began in 2003. The building has windows on two sides
that hold exhibits from the war. Newspaper articles from 1964-71
tell of the deaths of Monroe County men in Vietnam.
Although the museum falls under the direction of the county museum
members work there as volunteers.
With the idea of formalizing its support and extending it even
further, Chapter 142 formed a Museum Committee that evolved into
the Vietnam Veterans Museum Historical Society.
"The historical society helps operate the museum and is open to
the public to join. We're hoping it will aid in fund-raising," Podhola said.
Podhola also said that a few voices raised objections to the
museum in the planning stages, but the opposition was "overwhelmed
by the community reception and other County Commissioners.
"Monroe County has always been a strong supporter of veterans," he
said. "Our county has always had a higher number of men who
volunteered to go into the service than did
surrounding counties and in some instances other states. And even
though we're considered to be a small chapter by VVA standards,
we've always been active. We've been blessed with good people who
have served as officers in the chapter, and we have so much
community support here."