BY DAVE SKOCIK
Like many Vietnam veterans, Paul Davis’s two tours in harm’s way as a young man were a part of his distant past. At 67, he’d been involved in a great many things since.
Even though his youthful wartime experiences had left a lifelong impression, life went on. He’d completed a rewarding career as a law enforcement officer, a successful small business owner, and an elected county official. He also managed to weave in 48 years as a volunteer firefighter.
But perhaps more than Davis knew—and like many of his fellow veterans—war establishes reflexes that can be triggered decades later by the right stimulus.
In Davis’s case, it was an August 7, 2007, article in a local newspaper. It told the story of a small band of veterans from a local VVA chapter who had pledged to construct a memorial to the twenty-two young men from Kent County, Delaware, who had died in Vietnam. Long-forgotten feelings stirred him to read on and to go to the next chapter meeting.
The small size of the Delaware chapter surprised him. As a detail-oriented member of the county planning commission, Davis knew the chapter faced an enormous task. They didn’t have a design, a place, or any real idea how to raise money for the ambitious project.
Maybe that was for the better, he thought to himself.
The chapter was led, then and now, by President Joe Startt, Jr., a twice-wounded, stocky veteran with a stern voice and a never-say-die attitude. He and several members had discussed the idea of a memorial after seeing chapters in the state’s two other counties erect them.
Their determination and Startt’s drive gave chapter members the wherewithall to press ahead and bring in new members. Since then, they’ve pulled together to create what will be a beautiful monument surrounded by a paved reflection area. The monument also will accommodate memorials to other wars from WWII forward.
The chapter has learned how to do architectural drawings, to work with architectural and landscaping contractors, to make effective presentations to county leaders (which resulted in the donation of a 1.5 acre lot adjacent to the county headquarters), to work with city and state leaders, to meet with business leaders to gain access to public events (including setting up information tables and selling raffle tickets at Dover Downs during NASCAR races), to hold effective fundraisers, to participate in parades, to make public and classroom presentations, and to work effectively with the media to get the story out and educate the public on veterans’ issues in general.
The chapter has earned the support of some high-profile military people, including a former Vietnam War prisoner of war, the adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard, and a host of former and retired military folks.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jon Reynolds, who was held by the North Vietnamese for more than seven years, was the keynote speaker at a sold-out fundraising dinner and auction last fall. Several organizations are looking forward to working with the chapter in the coming months. All of this outreach has resulted in overwhelming support from the community. The June 10, 2008, groundbreaking ceremony brought together elected officials, community leaders, veterans, and just plain citizens.
These efforts have taken place in conjunction with the chapter’s regular fundraisers and outreach to other veterans, including the newest veterans through the Warrior Weekends Program and adopting a needy National Guard family over the holidays. The chapter also refers veterans for counseling and gives scholarships to deserving young people.
The cost of the memorial project was projected to be $130,000, but that figure was scaled down to $110,000: Amenities can be added later. The projected expenses include permits, architectural designs, landscaping, brick pavers, cement walks, a memorial stone, a flag pole, and lighting.
The good news is that fundraising is at the halfway point. The proposed memorial can be seen at www.DelawareVVA.com In addition to fundraisers of various types, the chapter is selling 1,200 memorial bricks at $75 each.
The bricks, which can accommodate three 15-character lines, can be dedicated to an individual or a group. Chapter planners have also created a larger $500 engraved block for organizations that will be placed close to the main stone.
Due to the nature of the brick pavers and concrete foundation that will be poured to support the memorial stone and future stones, the project must be started and completed in one operation. Consequently, there is nothing in the ground at the present time.
Chapter Secretary Mike Snyder took it upon himself to research local and national records, and he has found additional names for the monument. In checking records and reaching out to families who in some cases had left the state years ago, he’s made some memorable contacts. One was an 82-year-old mother who expressed heartfelt thanks for remembering her son. Another was from a daughter several states away who had never known her father, who was killed before she was born.
“Like all fundraising organizations, the economy has had an impact on our effort,” Startt said. “We continue, however, to move forward. Our activities include dinners, auctions, public displays, participation in public events like parades and information booths, classroom presentations, and even an upcoming motorcycle ride.
“This memorial is a very special way of saying ‘Welcome Home’ to the twenty-two who never made it back alive. This is our commitment. It will happen.”
To make a donation, contact Paul Davis at 5233 S. DuPont Hwy., Dover, DE 19901; firstname.lastname@example.org or call 302-697-8384. For more information on the Kent County memorial, email Dave Skocik at email@example.com