Public to guide design of Vietnam War Memorial on Oregon State Capitol grounds

A long-awaited memorial to Vietnam War veterans will soon open on the Oregon State Capitol grounds with some visionary help from the public.

The Boring-based Vietnam War Memorial Fund is asking the public to review and give feedback on the new exhibit’s interpretive panels. Comments must be submitted online by June 10.

The monument is nearly complete two years after the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 319, which established the memorial on the Capitol grounds. Then-Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill into law in July 2021.

Organizers hope to open the memorial by Veterans Day 2024, but they say that depends on how much funding is raised in the meantime.

The exhibit is intended to recognize a dwindling generation of soldiers who were rejected after returning home from the war.

“For this particular generation of warriors who weren’t really welcomed back and weren’t really given the opportunity to reintegrate, I think it’s important that the state of Oregon, in both ornament and instrument, has a symbol on the Capitol grounds that says, ‘We recognize your sacrifice. We’re grateful for what you did, and you matter to us,’” said state Rep. Paul Evans, a Monmouth Democrat and Air Force veteran who serves on the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Management.

The Oregon Capitol Planning Commission, the city of Salem’s Historic Landmarks Commission and the state Parks and Recreation Commission approved the exhibit’s final design. 

The interpretive panels at the memorial will provide facts and context about the Vietnam War and the role of Oregonians in the conflict, which was highly divisive in the U.S. There were 710 Oregonians killed in action and four Oregon families who each lost two sons in the war, which spanned from November 1955 to May 1975.

Each panel has been “vetted and verified” by a certified historian for accuracy, according to a news release from the memorial fund.

Those submitting feedback will watch an overview video and review nine exhibits, each of which has a comment section. 

The first draft panel on the survey provides a timeline of the war and recognizes those who served, including medics, women and Indigenous soldiers.

There are a few demographic questions for research purposes. The survey is anonymous, but people can include their email if they want to be added to the memorial’s database.

“I would ask that every vet, every military family member and every service club or group find a way to contribute both some time and some treasure to the project,” Evans said. 

He said due to supply chain issues over the past three years, there is still funding needed to complete the memorial. People can donate online to support the project, estimated to cost $4 million.

Evans said he believes the design of the monument will be the impetus for conversations decades in the making.

“But we all need to pitch in to make sure it happens on time,” he said. “There’s not a lot of time to waste.”

Steve Bates, president of the memorial fund and a member of the Associates of the Vietnam Veterans of America, told Salem Reporter in May 2021 that the project was urgent because the number of Vietnam War veterans in Oregon was dropping, and they deserved to be welcomed home by the people of Oregon.

About 2,700 Vietnam War-era veterans live in Salem, according to 2021 Census data.

Bates said the monument was originally scheduled to be completed by Veterans Day 2022, but the date was postponed due to the pandemic. 

The Salem chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America first raised the idea for the exhibit in 2015, and Bates was tasked with spearheading the idea.

He and other supporters of the project in 2017 met with Evans, who helped start the process for the memorial.

The monument is intended to be inclusive. A steering committee overseeing the exhibit’s design includes veterans, historians, historical interpreters, public officials and representatives from Oregon’s Vietnamese and other southeast Asian communities, according to Bates. 

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.