By John Cooper Lawton
In an effort to raise money for a replica of Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the Veteran Wall Committee hosted the Weekend for Our Heroes last week in Tupelo.
There were numerous activities, including a Run for the Wall 5K, an archery contest, live music, exhibits, a benefit dinner, and the ninth annual Petals for Patriots ceremony. Proceeds from the festivities went towards the Mississippi Vietnam Memorial Project.
“I would be happy to be a part of that memorial,” said Lamar Keen, an Oxford resident and Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War. “I think it’s something that anyone to have served would be happy to be a part of.”
Andy Ross, television host of The Sportsman’s Channel’s “Maximum Archery,” kicked off the Weekend for Our Heroes with a concert in The Summit Center on Sept. 19, which was National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
“We’ve had great support from the people that have been involved to dive in and help when needed,” said Leigh Ann Mattox, recreation director of Tupelo Parks and Recreation. “Andy Ross has been incredible.”
The plans for the memorial have already been drawn, and the site has been chosen. The committee has raised one-third of the funds for its $650,000 goal.
“There’s a lot more awareness about the Vietnam Wall now,” Mattox said. “That’s what we want. That’s what the purpose of this is, to build awareness of the Vietnam Wall out here.”
The Petals for Patriots ceremony closed out the weekend’s festivities. This ceremony began in 2005 after Marine Lance Cpl. Marc Lucas Tucker, a native of Pontotoc, was killed in action in Iraq.
For nine years, rose petals have been dropped out of aircraft to honor locals killed in action. Director of Maximum Recovery in Southeast Asia Paul Clever spoke before the event.
“I rejoice in the people who have learned and put in their heart about the Vietnam War and seek to honor the men that fought there and died there,” Clever said. “What I would hope of us as a group, is to rejoice that every person here is a kindred spirit. We’ve kept the faith, and we understand.”
Chair of the Weekend for Our Heroes Leslie Pearman and Mattox said the replica Vietnam Memorial Wall would be special to veterans, their families and local students since many people are not able to see the original wall in Washington. They said they expect tourism to be boosted once the monument is built.
“Our school kids from Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama will be able to come see something that they, more than likely, won’t be able to see any other time.”
Mitzi Below sang “God Bless America” as the rose petals fell from the Huey Helicopter onto the future site of the memorial. As children played among the petals and people slowly began to leave, a Marine veteran played “Taps” on his bugle.
“It would be amazing if we could get it completed very soon within the next year or so, because Vietnam veterans are the fastest declining population, as far as veterans,” Pearman said. “We would love to see it here before they are all gone.”