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Lack of Funds Hampers Viet War Memorial Project

Times Staff Writer

In a year and a half, the state plans to dedicate a $2-million monument in peaceful Capitol Park to the Californians who fought and died in Vietnam and to the thousands of others who served in the war.

Already, however, the project faces a monumental hurdle: It is virtually broke.

Although the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial is an official state project with an official state commission to oversee its construction, the commission has no staff to perform the day-to-day operations and no state budget, except for a small start-up loan.

The Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian set aside space in Capitol Park for the memorial, but they stipulated that its construction be financed with private contributions, without help from the taxpayers.

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As dedication day, Memorial Day, 1987, draws closer, some supporters of the project and members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission have voiced concern that the monument will not be completed on schedule unless large amounts of money are raised quickly.

Gregory Green, commission treasurer, who saw combat in Vietnam as a Navy signalman, estimated that there is about $25,000 in the commission bank account, with some outstanding bills due.

Green, like others on the unsalaried seven-member panel that meets once a month, expressed confidence, however, that the goal will be met. “If we can get through Vietnam, we can get through this,” he said.

Time is of the essence. “The problem is to raise big chunks of money,” said commissioner B. T. Collins, a former Special Forces officer who lost an arm and leg to a grenade in the war and later served as chief of staff to Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.

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“We’ve got to start ordering granite, marble, precast concrete, bronze panels and sculpture,” Collins said.

The monument is proposed as a plaza whose centerpiece is a flag and a statue of a soldier sitting on his helmet reading a letter from home. Like the national Vietnam memorial in Washington, the Sacramento structure will include the names of California’s war dead chiseled into granite. It will also feature a tableau of combat scenes in bas-relief bronze and a map of the war zone.

To be sure, some contributions have flowed in the year and a half since the commission legislation took effect. Deukmejian donated $200 and volunteered to make some broadcast public service announcements. TRW and Adolph Coors Co. contributed a combined $15,000, Green said.

Some American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters made donations, as did the California Correctional Officers Assn. and employees of the California Conservation Corps, which Collins once directed. Various veteran organizations have offered to make their mailing lists available.

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Commission chairwoman Linda McClenahan, who served in Vietnam in Army communications, said, however, that despite efforts to get major veterans’ groups fully involved to “arouse public awareness in their local areas, it has not been done. It seems they are waiting for someone else to step in the water first.”

She estimated that about $70,000 has been contributed but said expenses, such as a contest to design the memorial and $12,000 to construct a model of the winning entry, have cut deeply into the bank account.

One major problem, McClenahan said, is that many Californians are unaware that a memorial is planned. Volunteer efforts to get the word out have only a limited effect, she said.

Korea Veterans Reluctant

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Another issue that tends to slow progress, she said, is the reluctance of some Korean War veterans to support a monument to Vietnam military people, although Congress has moved to establish a national memorial to Americans who served in Korea.

“Some of the resistance that I still hear is from Korean War vets who feel slighted,” she said. “I don’t blame them. They have been slighted. But most of us who served in Vietnam were 5 years old at the time of their war.”

Months ago, when it became clear that volunteer efforts to raise $2 million were not enough, the commission decided to hire a professional fund-raiser. That became a time-consuming task for the admittedly inexperienced commissioners, who were unfamiliar with complex state procedures that regulate bids and contracts.

Now, it appears that a fund-raiser has been secured--the James Glass Co. of Los Angeles. Green said technical details will be firmed up in the next few days with the company, which will charge a fee of almost 10% of the funds it raises.

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Despite the help of a professional fund-raiser, Collins said, he believes that individual Californians should be encouraged to participate on their own. Whenever the monument model is displayed around the state, he said, “Anybody who sees it goes bonkers over it.”


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