In 2013 a group of Vietnam veterans from southwest Florida discovered that a traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall was for sale in Texas. Their question: Why couldn't we bring a permanent Vietnam Memorial Wall to Charlotte County, Florida?
Florida has one of the largest concentrations of veterans, and particularly Vietnam veterans - second only to California and Texas.
While the Wall in Texas was too expensive, a group of veterans joined together to form the Vietnam Wall of Southwest Florida Committee to design, raise funds and build a memorial wall in Charlotte County. The half-size granite replica will list the more than 58,000 names included on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. It will stand in a park in Punta Gorda, Fla., on land the city donated.
For those veterans and their families, Vietnam veteran and Post 110 member Charles Weinberg said a Vietnam memorial within driving distance offers a chance "to bring a healing experience" to those veterans and their families.
"It's also for the children of the veterans who have passed away or lost lives in the war, or grandchildren or the kids who know nothing about it because they're not being taught about it in school," Weinberg said.
More than two dozen Florida veterans groups have contributed to the cause, including Legion Posts 103, 110 and 113. Members of the Vietnam Brotherhood Delta Company, many of whom are also Legionnaires, have contributed significantly to the cause as well, Weinberg said.
The original estimate for constructing a half-size replica of the Wall was $350,000. But through in-kind donations, that number has decreased by more than $100,000, Weinberg said. The Port Charlotte High School designed and constructed a small-scale model of the wall that veterans bring to fundraising events and show off at booths to give potential donors a visual. The model even includes all the names, etched in with lasers.
It is this kind of community support that Weinberg said makes the project viable.
Since the initial idea in 2013, the committee has raised over $121,000, which is enough to purchase the wall, the engraving and have it shipped, he said. The organization has sold challenge coins, T-shirts and hats, has manned booths at national golf tournaments and local gatherings.
"Every opportunity we get to go out and gather some funds for this wall, we have people who are there to do it. It takes commitment by the veterans, by citizens, by everybody," Weinberg said.
The rest of the donations will go toward site work, landscaping, lighting and other related expenses, Weinberg said.
For more information or to donate, visit www.vietnamwallofsouthwestflorida.org.