The Huntington Beach veterans memorial ignores its own motto: “Lest we forget our heroes of all wars.”
The 32-year-old marker lists local casualties from only the two World Wars, and not even all of those. So resident Bob Kakuk, who served in Vietnam in 1968, has spent two years leading the campaign for a new monument at City Hall to include the names of the city’s Korean and Vietnam war dead.
“It’s going to be a beautiful monument,” Kakuk said. “And it’s going to be dedicated to people who gave their lives for this country and this city.”
He said veterans don’t get the recognition they deserve and hopes the new $20,000 monument, to be dedicated Memorial Day, will refocus people’s attention.
“I think this country has come to take freedom too much for granted,” said Kakuk, 50. “We don’t know that we have to fight for things.”
Raising money for the marker was a fight in itself, with Kakuk winning over local veterans groups and collecting coins donated by children at Pierfest last fall.
“Bob has been doing 90% of the work. He deserves most of the credit,” said John Maxwell, commander of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Huntington Beach.
Kakuk also had a hard time collecting names for the monument. Vandals have chipped the stone lettering on the old monument outside City Hall, Kakuk said, so that it is nearly illegible. He has not determined if 12 names were veterans of World War I or II, and he’s sure several are from elsewhere in Orange County.
“A lot of people I talked to didn’t even know this monument existed,” Kakuk said.
He said the public seems to want to forget about wars after they’re done, and it took him 20 years to come to terms with his Vietnam experience. He returned there in 1991 to pray and leave mementos as part of a healing process.
He said he hopes the new monument will do the same for local veterans and remind the public of their sacrifices.
“Unless you have a family member that died, Memorial Day doesn’t mean much to the average person,” Kakuk said. “There’s more to it than just a three-day weekend.”