Vista for Veterans
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By Steve Chiotakis. Aired June 1, 2001.

(JEFFERSON Co., Ala.) -- It was no accident that the Alabama Veterans Memorial is near Liberty Park or that the dedication to it was this past Memorial Day weekend.

But the way this new Birmingham-area landmark got started was probably part accident and part fate. When Della Fancher paid a visit to her family in 1985, she and her brother Tommy got into a deep discussion about his tour of duty in Vietnam some twenty years before. It was the first real talk they'd had about the war and his service there. Tommy was in the United States Navy on River Patrol in Southeast Asia. While there, he and his boat mates were commonly called River Patrol Rats. He told her just how fortunate he was to get out alive. "He opened up and said, 'Sis, I was the only survivor of that original crew.'" So Della began putting her efforts into a memorial that would honor all the Alabama men and women who served in Vietnam. Not wanting to leave anyone out, she broadened the theme to include all wars of the 20th century. "We're saying ALL Alabama veterans, what you did is equally important, and we are equally grateful, regardless of war or branch of service. If you'd lost a loved one and they were Army, Navy or one war versus another, it really doesn't help the pain. We are rather sensitive about people referring to this as a war memorial. It's a veterans memorial." It is a tribute to people like Alabama Army National Guard Brigadere General Tom King - now a Jefferson County Circuit Judge -- who also served in Vietnam and whose family served before him. "I lost an uncle in World War II I never knew. He was in Army Air Corp. Was shot down over Tunisia. (He) insisted on going back up and paid the ultimate sacrifice." Within the memorial, there is a stone temple, where the names of more than 11,000 other Alabama servicemen who didn't come home, are inscribed. Just outside the temple, there are rows of 3-dozen erect concrete columns, each 20 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter, featuring all the Alabama Medal of Honor winners. There are also rectangular plates of cast aluminum works by local artists depicting their thoughts of freedom and the sacrifice for it. Montgomery artist Amanda Tindall's left hand, replete with wedding ring, brushes across one of the two plates she made. "This one is inspired by all the different wars of course and one of the ones that got this one going was…there's a picture of my cousin sitting on a log. And he looks a little tired. And he's got an open can of rations next to him and his boots are next to him… you kind of figure out, 'oh that's uncomfortable.' They had to live off of what they had and what they had to carry." So her cast-aluminum plate is a montage of an army boot, a reaching hand for a soldier in need, a netted hat similar to the ones worn in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm and similar references to World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. Governor Don Siegelman says the memorial - a tribute to Alabama servicemen -- is a fitting tribute to Alabama because the state has been home to so many men and women who served and sacrificed for America. "Today, we see and feel and can touch a symbol of those sacrifices. And it's something that draws us in and makes us a part and makes us remember." The Alabama Veterans Memorial Foundation will continue to raise money for expansion of the 22-acre project. While 6 million dollars has already been raised, another 6 million is needed to complete phases 2 and 3 which will include purchasing and developing rights of way and constructing a veterans education center. For General King and the other veterans who did come home, there was no place to preserve their knowledge and memorialize their service to Alabama and America. All that changed on Memorial Day. "This means everything," he said. ©2001 WBHM-FM. All Rights Reserved.

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