During our May 2012 vacation to the Colorado Rockies, my wife Pat and I made an overnight stopover in Fruita, Colorado, a town near Grand Junction on I-70. We had just completed a day in the awesome Colorado National Monument landscape and needed a rest.
Our motel was within walking distance of the Colorado Welcome Center, and any observer could not miss seeing a UH-1H Huey helicopter suspended in static display over a nearby landscaped granite walled plaza. I recognized the Huey from my days in the Vietnam War era Army, so I went to investigate.
The Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park is dedicated to the men and women who served in all branches of the armed forces during the Vietnam War circa 1959 to 1975. The granite wall that surrounds the helicopter pad is etched with the names of veterans who served during that era, and a Walk of Honor has bricks identifying the donors who made the memorial possible. Many flags fly at the site, and in 2007 three bronze statues of a mother and father welcoming home their son from Vietnam by sculptor Richard Arnold, himself a vet, were added.
The founding initiator of the memorial park is Jim Doody. Jim and his fellow vets began their efforts to construct the memorial in 2001. In the process, they secured the site, got the City of Fruita to undertake the maintenance and liability of the park, got the Associated Builders and Contractors of America to make the construction of the park their 2003 Community Project and contribute $400,000 in materials and labor, and secured other funds and support from across the region to make their purpose a reality. The ground breaking was in March 2002, and the dedication, attended by thousands, was on the 4th of July, 2003. Jim later served on the Grand Junction City Council and became its mayor.
For me, walking through the memorial park, there was a sobering reminder of the sacrifices that men and women of courage had made in honoring the call of their country to military service. Passing though airports on this trip, I saw young people in military uniforms that reminded me that I had worn the uniform and walked in the same harm’s way about 48 years earlier. My feeling was pride mixed with sadness.
On any given day, a visitor to The Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park, a Vietnam era vet, or a family member, will encounter others like themselves with stories to tell and comrades to remember. The lingering with compassionate strangers is comforting, and even healing, to a degree that remembering pain can be activated by a shared experience. When the stranger says, “I know what you mean,” or “I know how that feels,” the bell of truth rings clear in the desert mountain air.
Then there are sincere handshakes with direct eye contact and perhaps a parting raised-hand military salute to indicate both respect and honor. These are the untold legacies of the commitment by a single small community to remember the military service of its sons and daughters during a bitter time of a divided nation.