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Though Cloaked, War Memorial Draws Visitors

Monument: Statues built for young Vietnamese Americans to 'remember history.'

September 25, 2002|QUYNH-GIANG TRAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although the two 15-foot statues are still veiled and fenced off in an unfinished Westminster park, a steady stream of mostly Vietnamese Americans visited them Tuesday in a moment that for some was deep and powerful.

Clutching a tattered letter from his father dated April 11, 1988, Jacobs Hung Le, 35, said he saw the bronze statues--an American and a South Vietnamese soldier side by side--as a substitute for the gravesite he can't visit regularly.

His father spent 13 years in a reeducation camp and never made it to the United States. Le said visiting the statues made him feel that he had not left his father in Vietnam.

Others viewed the statues with disinterest and even concern, underscoring the divide that lingers in a suburban town that became home to thousands of immigrants after the Vietnam War.

"How many people will we be contending with?" wondered Rosalea Wilcox, 78, who lives in a senior citizen housing complex across from the statues. Wilcox said she was kept up until 1 a.m. when the statues were trucked in and installed.

But Wilcox, a county resident since 1957, said she understands the purpose of the monument. She has kept a file of newspaper articles on the statues' progress to share with her daughter.

"I hope it will bring peace to the Vietnamese people," she said.

Her neighbor Will Zainfeld, 67, a retired interior designer from Huntington Beach, expressed concern about the design and its symbolism. Zainfeld, who served in the Navy in the late 1950s, thought the two-soldier image evoked violence. "Maybe it should be an American soldier with a Vietnamese family [instead]," he said. "Because we freed them and they are here now."

The statues will remain covered until an official unveiling in November. City officials said they want to keep them covered until the plaza is complete, although they were briefly uncloaked when movers shifted them into place Monday.

"We built this statue for the young people to remember their history," said Nguyen Nguyen, 67, of Norwalk. "When we die, this will be here for our children."

As the centerpiece in Freedom Plaza, a small plaza in the shadow of a county courthouse and Westminster's City Hall, the statues are the gift of thousands of Vietnamese Americans who raised nearly $1 million in small donations over three years, despite controversy over the design and escalating costs.

Nguyen and her husband Nu Nguyen, 65, who donated more than $400 to help pay for the statues, arrived Tuesday at 3 p.m. for a two-hour shift to watch over the soldiers. Volunteers from former South Vietnamese veteran groups intend to hold an after-hours vigil to protect the statues from vandalism until the unveiling, when the site will be lighted and patrolled.

For some, the statues symbolize a new home.

"This is our second homeland now," said Sandy Nguyen, 63, of Westminster, who walked to the statues with her 3-year-old grandniece. Nearing tears, Sandy Nguyen said she would come every week to sweep around the statues if the city lacked funds to care for it.

While many emotions are represented by the statues, Tuan Nguyen, its designer, had more humble goals. "I designed it to pay respect to those who died in the war. The people themselves give meaning to it."

The plaza will include a fountain, eternal flame and electronic kiosks with information about the war.

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