By William Moore
TUPELO – By Veterans Day this fall, there will be a smaller version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Tupelo.
Following the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday morning, the actual work is set to begin today.
“We’ll actually start turning dirt this week, probably Tuesday,” said Tupelo Parks & Recreation Department director Alex Farned. “We hope to have everything complete by this fall so we can have a ribbon-cutting on Veterans Day in November.
“A lot of that depends on how long it takes to get the granite slabs. The dirtwork and sidewalks won’t take long. Getting the stone engraved and shipped will be the biggest holdup.”
The simple, black granite “V” will be 60 percent of the size of the official monument in Washington, D.C.
“It will be a little over 6 feet tall at the center,” said landscape architect Shipman Sloan. “The one in Washington is completely below ground. We will build a berm behind the walls so they are only partially underground.”
Rex Moody, the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Tupelo chapter, can’t wait for the local memorial to be finished.
“It means a lot to Vietnam veterans and it will mean a lot to the city,” Moody said. “You can see it. You can touch it. It has a potential. It is a healing wall.
“So many veterans go there and come away feeling better. They can find a measure of peace. I stop by every time I got to Washington, but not all veterans can travel to D.C.”
The idea first came up more than 15 years ago when a traveling replica visited Itawamba Community College in Fulton in 2001. The Vietnam Replica Wall Committee started raising funds about 10 years later. After collecting about $250,000 in donations and pledges, the group approached the city of Tupelo with the idea of placing the replica in Veterans Memorial Park.
The city donated around $150,000 for the land, parking lot and in-kind services. But with the total project costing well over $1 million, state funding was needed. After years of discussions, the state of Mississippi earmarked $750,000 in bond money for the project.
“It was a four- or five-year process,” said District 19 Representative Randy Boyd. “We started talking about this way before it happened. We had to wait until bond money was available.
“This wall has meant something to me since I first heard about the plan. I remember people whose names are on the wall. It could have easily been my name up there instead of theirs.”
Tupelo mayor Jason Shelton said the wall replica is a true public-private endeavor, with citizens joining with the governments of Itawamba and Lee counties, the city of Tupelo and the state.
“This is not just a park for recreation, it is a memorial for the veterans and their service and sacrifice,” Shelton said.
Officials believe the wall replica could become a tourist destination. In 2001, buses were chartered to carry people to Fulton to see the traveling wall.
The national monument’s arms point toward the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Monument. The Tupelo replica will be oriented as an element of a three-part military cluster at the park. The other two elements at are the Veterans Memorial and the F-105 Thunderchief plane.
Farned said future plans at the park could include additional military items, such as a tank.