Vietnam War Memorial May Not Go To HAMM
By JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS
A vandalized and decaying Vietnam War memorial removed last year from Tyler's Bergfeld Park is destined for a new home, but probably not at the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum as originally planned.
City officials said Thursday the war marker is heading to a memorial garden that may one day be constructed at a new veterans clinic in Tyler.
For now, the marker remains in the care and custody of Tyler Granite, the firm that stepped up more than a year ago to repair it, officials said.
Museum officials said Thursday they were surprised and saddened by this latest development, spurred apparently by the nonprofit's inability to fund the marker's installation.
"We had plans to do a courtyard," Board President Carolyn Verver said. "We would have loved to have had it out here. ... It's a little disappointing."
The Vietnam War marker was installed in Bergfeld Park during the late 1970s by local veterans and residents as a way to honor 44 Smith County servicemen who perished in the war.
In the elements, the marker's condition declined over the years, but the estimated $4,000 needed to repair it was deemed too costly for the original group, officials said.
So in 2004, a different group of veterans started raising money for a duplicate Vietnam War marker and the new one was positioned at T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza, records show.
The old version remained in the park, however, fueling the ire of longtime Tyler resident Johnny Dark, who noticed its condition in May 2011 and raised concerns.
Tyler officials responding to Dark's concerns said the municipality did not actually own the marker, but because it was located on city property, they would step in and arrange for its removal.
Parks Director Stephanie Rollings said last year the city lacked the funds to repair it and provide perpetual care, so an appeal for donations went out.
Tyler Granite stepped up with an offer to repair the marker, which had been further damaged as it was being removed from its original park location, using donated materials supplied by Dal-Tile Stone, in Dallas, and The Tile Shop, in Tyler.
Arrangements were made with museum officials to install the marker at the facility, and its board agreed to accept it as an addition to their military tributes.
The nonprofit museum, on city-owned property, houses an extensive collection of aviation memorabilia spanning the 20th century, including a hangar filled with vintage aircraft.
Thirteen months have passed, but the marker still hasn't made it to the museum.
Ms. Rollings said Thursday the city hasn't had the money for installation.
She said neither of the two locations suggested by museum officials was ideal, noting one locale even needed a sidewalk to make it more easily accessible to the public.
"It is going to be quite expensive to reinstall," she said. "We're just not able to do it in this fiscal year. It just made more sense to put it in an area designated for monuments."
Ms. Rollings said the museum's docents offered to help with fundraising and materials, but the organization wasn't able to come up with enough resources to fund the entire amount.
Ms. Verver said a group of veterans associated with the museum rallied months ago to build a foundation for the marker, but after seeing the actual size, realized the project was more complicated than first assumed.
"It was a much bigger job than we could do ourselves," she said. "We told them (city) we could not afford to do it."
Ms. Verver said the city agreed to pitch in and help build the remainder of the foundation, using labor and resources from the street department.
Tyler Granite offered earlier to help out with its annual care and upkeep.
"We've been waiting a year," Ms. Verver said. "It was too much work for an individual and it has to be done professionally. It didn't mean we didn't want it."
As the one-year anniversary rolled around, the question of what to do with the marker was presented recently to the Mayor's Veterans Roundtable, prompting agreement from members to include the marker in a new garden the group hopes to build at the veterans' clinic.
Before the site can be developed at the veterans' clinic, permission must be first obtained from the state, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John T. Furlow said, noting the memorial garden probably won't be built for at least two years.
Furlow said roundtable members are happy to help provide a permanent home for the marker.
"That monument has a place in there, as well as future ones," he said, responding to questions about the new garden.
When contacted Thursday for a reaction about the change in location, museum officials said they were not aware the monument wasn't coming their way.
"This is news to me," Ms. Verver said. "This is the first I've heard of it ... it's OK, I guess, as long as it has a good home."
Ms. Rollings said the new suggested location at the veterans' home will be better suited for a memorial marker, even with the anticipated delay in reinstallation.
"It gives more time to raise funds," she said.
Updated Friday, June 22, 2012 at 2:07 p.m. CDT