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Graffiti on veterans memorial in Venice is too extensive to repair without damaging it

In the week before Memorial Day, Venice residents noticed the frustratingly familiar sight of graffiti.

But this time, the location was especially egregious: Vandals scrawled big, white letters over part of a mural memorializing Vietnam War veterans.

“It’s sad and shocking,” said Venice Chamber of Commerce Vice President George Francisco. “Such ignorance and animosity.”

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The damage, he said, feels especially personal -- his father was a Green Beret in Vietnam and did two combat tours.

The mural along Pacific Avenue has a message at the top reading “You Are Not Forgotten” and bears the names of 2,273 soldiers counted as either prisoners of war or missing in action in Vietnam.

After the mural’s dedication in 1992, the artist, Peter Stewart, said he was inspired to paint the wall after attending a welcome-home parade for Operation Desert Storm veterans.

Since then, the now-fading mural along one of Venice’s main streets has become an important icon.

When longtime resident Stewart Oscars drove by Wednesday evening, he noticed the damage and turned to his wife and friend.

“Holy mackerel,” he blurted. “Look at this thing.”

Oscars, who lives a mile or so from the mural, said he felt instantly nauseous.

His mind raced with memories of his classmates who had fought in Vietnam -- a couple of whom he understands never returned. He thought, too, of Memorial Day and how veterans’ families will feel when they see the vandalism.

“It’s like a direct attack,” he said. “If you have any sense of history, you’d never do this.”

Oscars said the graffiti stretched on for about 100 feet.

“That’s lots of names,” Oscars said. “Those are people.”

He snapped some photos and sent them to everyone he thought could help -- the Los Angeles Police Department, Westside City Councilman Mike Bonin and L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer.

He said he hadn’t heard back from anyone but was still hopeful that the mural could be repaired.

Bonin released a statement condemning the vandalism as "a disgusting and disrespectful act." He said his office has spoken with employees at the Board of Public Works and at L.A.'s Office of Community Beautification and plans to have the mural "cleaned as soon as possible."

Francisco, the chamber vice president, said he had exchanged emails with staffers in Bonin’s office, who said they had submitted a priority graffiti clean-up request for the mural.

An LAPD spokesman said the sheriff’s office was investigating because the mural is painted onto a Metropolitan Transportation Authority building. Lt. John Sullivan of the sheriff’s transit service bureau said he hadn’t heard of any arrests in the case.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @marisagerber

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