For many veterans of the Vietnam War, paying homage to their fallen comrades means a long trip to the nation’s capital and a visit to the Vietnam War Memorial, where the names of those lost in the conflict are forever etched into stone. With the help of a Farmington business, however, veterans will soon be able to pay their respects a little closer to home.
Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial, a proposed full-size replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C. is planned for erection in Perryville, Missouri, under the direction of a board of directors and made possible by generous donations by a Vietnam War veteran.
“What we’re doing is we’re building an exact replica, in every detail, of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.,” said board President Mike Lundy. “We’ve worked very closely with people at the memorial in D.C.”
Vietnam War Veteran Jim Eddleman was the man who made the project truly possible by donating a staggering $2.5 million plus property toward the completion of the memorial.
“He started out giving $1 million, then when he saw the project grow, he put another $1.5 million in,” Lundy said. “Then, when we were looking for ground—they’d cut a new road through his farmland, which is a third-generation farm. He said, ‘Why don’t I just give this piece to you and you can put it there?’”
Eddleman said for him, the memorial is a way for him to give back to his fellow soldiers who never came home from the conflict in Southeast Asia.
“Really, it started for me when I was in Vietnam,” Eddleman said. “I saw the reality of what war really was, and I told myself that if I ever made it back home to the United States, I’d have to do something to show my respect and honor for my comrades. It took me about 47 years for this to happen, but it finally happened. It’s way more than I ever expected, but it’s going to be really nice when we get it done.”
Upon completion, the memorial campus will consist not only of the wall, but a welcome center and adequate facilities for groups to hold reunions and gatherings.
“We’re going to have a lot more to offer than what Washington, D.C. has,” Eddleman said. “We’re going to have a welcome center, a museum, and we’ve got other things in the long-term plans as well. We’ve got 40-plus acres to work with, so we’ve got a lot of property. We’re planning on having a cemetery for veterans, and we’re going to have a building for reunions for different branches of service.
"We’re trying to do everything right.”
On March 2, members of the memorial board met at Eternal Etchings, a Farmington business specializing in monument engraving. Lundy said the business will etch all of the 140 stone panels with the names of the fallen.
“In here are the beginning of the panels that we were originally hoping to have etched by Memorial Day,” Lundy said. “We’ve had a little bit of a delay to make sure every character is correct. But now that we’ve got started, we’re probably talking the middle of June before it gets done, if everything goes as it should.”
Lundy said the project owes a great deal to business owner Kevin Hale for having the skill and facility to accomplish the large amount of engravings demanded by the project.
“We had a dream, we had a vision and we had the money,” Lundy said. “We just needed someone to help us get it done. He helped us getting the granite, making sure of the quality, and now he’s taking care of every detail to make sure it’s all correct.”
Hale’s skills, which make him uniquely qualified to undertake the large project, begin with an interest in drawing and painting during his time as a student at Farmington High School. After graduating, he entered a landscape and architectural program at Kansas State University before entering a horticultural program in St. Louis. Before completing the program, however, he received a phone call about a possible job doing stone etching.
“I’d never even thought about the monument industry, headstones or cemeteries or anything at that point,” Hale said. “I walked in and I saw these black granite tiles that have these detailed etchings on them. They said to take a towel and a Dremel etching tool and see what I could do. I took it home, etched a couple deer and something just clicked.”
For the first six years of his career in etching, Hale said the process was done completely by hand, without the aid of computers.
“So after doing six and a half years of that in my early twenties, I already had carpal tunnel symptoms and my back was killing me,” he said. “So I decided I had to find a way to make this work long-term.
“I’d been looking into the laser process for a while, then I realized that’s where I needed to head. When I looked at the first machines, the detail wasn’t there yet. There was a whole system and it couldn’t match what I could do by hand. Finally, the technology caught up. So I started working with it and I’ve been doing that about eleven years now.”
Hale said the laser etching machine in his shop will be running 24 hours a day, seven days a week for about four months to get the memorial completed. He said the project is made less daunting by other large projects he’s worked on, like a memorial at the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail in Boone County, Missouri.
“After you handle a project like that and you get a few more under your belt, this isn’t as daunting as you would think,” he said. “You just take a panel at a time and make sure you get everything right in the computer before you start on the stone.”
Lundy said after the project is completed, it will provide a place to pay respects to fallen Vietnam veterans in a radically different setting than the original wall in the capital. He said nearly six million people a year visit the wall in urban Washington, D.C., whereas the Perryville wall will be situated in a quiet, peaceful environment.
“At our wall, if the Vietnam veterans have a group and want to come down and spend the day, we’re going to shut it down to the public,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is not just a local memorial, but a national memorial.”
“It’s going to be a completely different atmosphere than the one in D.C. because you’re going to be out in the peace and silence of nature,” Hale said.
It is estimated that the etching of the names into the stone panels will be completed in June, with the completion of the memorial to follow.