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War Memorial Prevails After Lengthy Battle

Veterans: Westminster council ends years of bickering over design with a unanimous vote for the centerpiece of a new Civic Center park.

October 19, 2001|JERRY HICKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After four years of redesign, fund-raising and political bickering, the Westminster City Council unanimously approved a Vietnam War memorial for the Civic Center.

"It's been a long time coming, longer than it should have been, but it will be special," said Councilman Frank Fry, a World War II veteran who proposed the project.

The bronze memorial--12 feet tall on a 5-foot-high concrete base--will show two soldiers, one American and one Vietnamese, standing side by side and surrounded by flags.

It will be the centerpiece of a plaza that will include a fountain, an eternal flame and electronic kiosks where visitors can learn more about the war and look up the names of American and Vietnamese casualties.

The sculptor is Tuan Nguyen, 38, who came to the United States in 1988 after numerous failed attempts to escape Vietnam.

The plaza will be part of a new 1.4-acre city park in what is now an empty lot. Completion of the project is expected by the end of 2002, said Community Development director Don Anderson.

Plaza Envisioned as Focal Point for Visitors

City officials are convinced that the memorial will become a focal point for visitors to Little Saigon, the largest expatriate Vietnamese community.

"Nothing can replace our wall [the Vietnam Memorial in Washington], but for the West Coast this will be an important stop for visitors to the county," said Craig Mandeville, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Vietnam War Memorial committee that Fry put together.

The memorial's executive committee has raised more than $550,000, most of it in small contributions from the Vietnamese community.

Some officials say an additional $300,000 is needed before architectural plans can be completed.

The approval culminates a sometimes rocky effort to erect a memorial. Early designs--two soldiers shaking hands, a flag between two soldiers--never panned out.

The project drew criticism after it was revealed that it could not be completed for its original $500,000 estimate.

The City Council initially balked at placing the memorial at the Civic Center, which upset some in the community, while others considered a private memorial inappropriate for city property.

When the final vote came Wednesday night, one resident showed up in opposition.

A Special Significance for Vietnamese Emigres

Fry accepted congratulations afterward.

"At first, my thought was a memorial for Americans who had returned from that war," Fry said.

"They were coming back unappreciated. But as I began to talk to more and more of my Vietnamese friends, I realized that we weren't the only side that suffered losses; many Vietnamese lost loved ones too."

Minhduc Ngoc Ho, another member of the memorial committee, predicts that the project will become important to Vietnamese Americans in part because memorials to their military dead have been torn down in their homeland.

"The Communist government in Vietnam wiped out everything, even the graves," he said. "We have nothing left in Vietnam to even show that our people died in battle there."

Committee members say completing the actual statue at the park site is only part of their job.

They are researching names of South Vietnamese casualties for the kiosk. More than 58,000 Americans and about 220,000 members of the South Vietnamese armed forces died in that war.

"Records for the Vietnamese military were not always kept in one central location," said Jo Porter, another committee member.

"Finding all those names is important to us, but it's going to be a long process."

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