OUR OPINION: Momentum increases for Vietnam memorial

Tupelo’s continuing efforts to develop Veterans Park as a regional destination attraction with monuments and retired weapons made a major advance Monday with the groundbreaking for a 60 percent-sized replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, among the most recognizable war memorials in the world.

A crowd of supporters filled the meeting room of the Tupelo Aquatic Center to escape inclement weather. They heard from a Tupelo hero of the Vietnam War, Carlyle “Smitty” Harris, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent eight years as a prisoner of war.

Harris said the Tupelo memorial will rank among the best replicas of the Vietnam memorial nationwide.

The city of Tupelo and the Convention and Visitors Bureau have made a major investment in the cost of the memorial wall, but the bulk of the cost must be raised from private sources.

The calendar of notable dates may provide impetus for generosity.

The first official deployment of U.S. soldiers to Vietnam, the Third Marine Regiment, began arriving on March 8, 1965, and March 8, 2015, will mark the 50th anniversary of official American combat presence.

The U.S., through the CIA and later with covert involvement of the military, had been in South Vietnam since the early 1960s. The initial U.S. combat forces were followed by a huge deployment of combat, combat support, and logistics units that together with U.S. Navy and Air Force personnel in-country reached a peak of 543,400 in April 1969.

Hundreds of Mississippians gave the ultimate sacrifice in southeast Asia.

Don Lewis, chief operations officer for the city of Tupelo, said $125,000 from the city and the Convention and Visitors Bureau has been obtained. It will be spent on infrastructure.

Rex Moody, state council president for the Vietnam Veterans Association, said panel sponsorships currently total around $66,000, leaving $350,000 needed to complete the project.

A separate initiative, which has drawn wide interest, will place an F-105 “Thunderchief” aircraft on a pedestal in the park.

A full generation has grown up since the last Americans were withdrawn from Vietnam, and many from that war have retired or died. Their remembrance, like that of soldiers from other wars, is timely and appropriate.

(Go to virtualwall.org for an interactive list by town of every Mississippian who died in Vietnam.)