The Orange Leader
For over three years the Stark ’64 Veterans Association has been working to assist veterans who have fallen on hard times. They have been supporting the City of Refuge in Vinton but are now changing their focus with the ambitious project of building a Vietnam War Memorial site in Orange County.
The memorial is dedicated to the 28 men from Orange County who were killed in the Vietnam War. The site is on the ground of the Fields of Freedom Park in Vidor, Texas. It is connected to Fields of Freedom by a concrete walkway, but is different in that the express purpose is to honor the fallen men and other Vietnam veterans.
The casualties from Orange County had attended most area high schools; there were nine from Vidor High School, six from Lutcher Stark High School, two from Orangefield, Little Cypress, and Wallace High Schools, one from West Orange, M.B. North, Bridge City, and Deweyville High Schools, one from Buna High School who had transferred from Bridge, and two whose schools were not determined.
Interestingly, the first casualty from Orange County was killed in 1964 and was from Vidor. The last was killed in 1970 and was also from Vidor.
Work on memorial is about half completed. The concrete is poured and the shape of the memorial is defined. Jerry Gatch, the Commander of the Stark ’64 Veterans Association has been in charge of the project. Gatch has been successful in finding merchants to supply materials at their cost. McCoy’s in Orange and M&D Supply in Beaumont are two of several companies that have provided materials for the memorial.
The labor on the project has been done entirely by volunteers. The most unique volunteer has been Bau (Bo) Phung. Phung is a Vietnamese refugee who during the Vietnam War worked with the American forces. After the war he was imprisoned by the Communist government and held for several years until he was able to escape. Phung finally worked his way out of Vietnam and achieved his goal of coming to America. He settled in Dallas and became a building contractor. He also became Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout Troop. When he found out about the construction of the Fields of Freedom Park, he volunteered his service and was a part of the efforts in building that park. He would often bring his family and Scout troop to Vidor to work alongside him.
When Phung found out that the Vietnam memorial was being built, he volunteered to work on that also. He has worked closely with Gatch on the construction of the memorial. Phung was in charge of building the concrete forms and pouring the concrete in addition to estimating material needs and costs.
In the initial phase of the project, Bobby Vincent of American Legion Post 250 in Bridge City was instrumental in obtaining the dirt that was needed to get the memorial built to the needed grade for construction.
Retired Coastguardsman Ben Ivey was able to go to the Coast Guard Station at Sabine Pass and recruit some Coast Guard personnel to donate their time to work on the memorial. BM2 Dan Hernandez, BM2 Josh Glover, BM2 Jacob Jozwiak, BM3 Amiee Sloan, BM3 Byron Phillips, SN Mike Johnson, and SN Linda Stewart were those who came to work on duty and off duty hours to do whatever needed to be done.
Several of the residents of the City of Refuge donated their time to work however they could. The residents of the COR are all veterans and they wanted to repay the Stark Veterans Association for the assistance they had been given.
Glenn Ledger, Butch Broussard, Dickie Buffington, Bob Aven, and Ben Ivey worked with the others in what was often temperature in the mid-30 range for several days building the forms and pouring the concrete. Ivey brought a valuable worker in his father in law Lee “Poppy” LeBlanc. LeBlanc is a WWII veteran in his 80s who is a retired master cement and brick mason. Working like a man half his age, he was quick to lead the concrete work and share his knowledge with the younger workers. The initial concrete work is done, but the next phase is very important. The concrete must be slick-finished to allow for the painting of the murals. LeBlanc’s talents will shine here; the slick finishing will be his duty.
Once the slick finish is applied, Mauriceville artist Tom Windham and his daughter Melissa Windham Nell will paint the murals on the concrete walls. Windham and Nell have researched the proper paint to use. Windham has experience in painting concrete murals and volunteered his time and talent to paint the walls of the memorial.
In the center of the horseshoe shaped memorial will be two flagpoles. One will fly the American Flag, the other the Flag of the Republic of South Vietnam. The memorial will be one of the few in the nation to fly the Vietnamese flag to honor those veterans.
On top of the side walls will be a plaque for each of the 28 men who fell in Vietnam. The black granite plaques will have a laser engraved picture of each man along with his appropriate unit crest and a brief history of his service.
For veterans of the Vietnam War who would like to have their service recognized there are pavers available that may be engraved with the veteran’s name, branch of service, and a short inscription. Information about the pavers is available from Gatch.
“We have come a long way, but we still have a lot to do to finish the memorial. Most of the hard physical work is done, now we need to install the lights and the flagpoles and get the walls painted. We have bought the granite plaques and are checking out several engravers to see who will do the best job at an affordable price.
Hopefully we can have the memorial ready to dedicate by Memorial Day, 2013. Our association is very thankful for all those who have given so much time and worked so hard to get us to the point we are at now.
What we need now is some financial assistance. We will be happy to give credit to anyone who wishes to give a sponsorship for the flagpoles, lighting system, pavers, or anything else. The estimate is that it will take about $12,000 to finish the memorial. Donations of any amount will be greatly appreciated.
Anyone wishing to make a much needed donation may contact me by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at: 409-920-4601,” said Gatch.
Copies of the book, “28 Men Fell” are available by contacting Gatch. The book tells the story of each of the Orange County men who died in Vietnam. Available at this time is the third edition which contains additional information and pictures. “As time has gone by and I have had more contact with the families of the 28 men, more information has been given to me and as I have needed to print more books I have updated each edition.”