(Orange, Texas)

State News

January 6, 2013

Clay coming to life for Texas Vietnam memorial


BASTROP, Texas —

Unique to this Texas memorial will be a smartphone app that will allow visitors to electronically link to additional information.

Some 58,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War, and Texas is second only to California in the number of Americans both sent and lost there. Plans call for 3,417 dog tags to be entombed in the monument to represent those Texans who died.

Among the first Americans to die in Vietnam was Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand, 44, of Copperas Cove, who was an adviser to the South Vietnamese army. He and another U.S. soldier were killed during an ambush in July 1959. The last Texan killed was Marine Pfc. Antonio Ramos Sandoval, from San Antonio, who died in a helicopter that was shot down in May 1975, two weeks after the fall of Saigon.

Floyd said a common question he gets is why this memorial took so long.

"I think one of the reasons has to do with Vietnam war itself," he said. "Korean War veterans, they call it the war America forgot. And we sometimes say (Vietnam) is the war Americans wanted to or want to forget.

"Like a lot of veterans, Vietnam veterans are reticent to talk about their service. They were not welcomed home. They were protested when they went over and protested when they came back."

In 2005, the Texas Legislature passed a joint resolution authorizing construction of the monument. Raising the private money to build it, however, was a struggle. It wasn't until September 2011 that the state began matching donations up to a total of $500,000. That's helped as project backers closed in on a budget goal of about $1.5 million. Additional money will go toward educational programs about the war.

Foundry sculptors are using hand tools to shape some 300 pounds of heated clay which was brushed about one-eighth-inch thick on plastic foam, bringing to life the intricate details of the men and their equipment. When the clay sculptors are about 95 percent complete, New Mexico artist Duke Sundt, who designed the piece, will come in for the finishing touches. Sundt's work already includes an iconic bronze Longhorn on the University of Texas campus in Austin.

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