In this 1965 photo from The Kentucky Post, then-Covington Mayor Bernard Eichholz, center, and other City officials hold a Christmas card they were sending to soldiers from Covington fighting in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy Kenton County Public Library)
Groups raising money to move, expand memorial
COVINGTON, Ky. - When their draft numbers were called during the Vietnam War, Covington’s youth ran ... not away, but toward.
“These were boys from Holy Cross, Holmes, Covington Catholic, and Covington Latin,” said Chuck Wills, who served in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry during the fighting.
When the shooting finally ended after many horrific years, over 30 of those young men had permanently committed to the jungles, rice paddies, and mountains of South Vietnam their blood ... shattered bones ... and their very last ragged breaths.
The names of Covington’s fallen - young men like Marine Cpl. Robert Kenneth Lovelace (killed Feb. 9, 1966) ... Army Sgt. Randall Edward Welch (killed Oct. 18, 1968) ... and Navy Seaman James Everett Pierce (killed Feb. 7, 1969) - are memorialized in raised bronze on a plaque in a corner of Meinken Field near the Licking River.
But the plaque is incomplete and small, and - most of the time - inaccessible to visitors. Almost 50 years after the fighting in Vietnam ended, Wills and many others think the community can and should do better.
Leaders from two veterans’ organizations in Covington - American Legion Post 203 and Marshall Schildmeyer VFW Post 6095 - are collaborating on an effort to relocate the memorial and expand it into a place of reflection.
Their effort is gaining momentum.
Wills and two other men on the Covington Vietnam Fallen Memorial committee appeared at the Latonia Business Association’s monthly luncheon meeting this week to discuss the effort and its fund-raising campaign, which includes the selling of engraved bricks to be placed around the new site.
The existing plaque is attached to a small stone underneath a flagpole beyond the outfield fence at Meinken Field on Eastern Avenue. There’s nothing to draw attention to it, there’s no place to sit and meditate, and the area is typically locked up, given the restricted use of the baseball diamond and the need to protect the substantial investment in it. When the memorial was installed in 1989, the facility had a more open setup.
“Unless it’s Memorial Day, when we unlock the gates to have our ceremony, or unless there’s a ballgame going on, you generally can’t get to it,” Wills said.
The proposed model for the new Covington Vietnam Fallen Memorial site shows pavers, lights, benches, flagpoles and other features.
A place of reflection
The proposed new location will be on a plot of grass owned by Latonia Baptist Church across East 38th Street from the church, at 38th Street’s intersection with Church Street. Coincidentally, the corner is a block away from the Korean War Memorial at Ritte’s Corner.
As proposed, the new design would transform the Vietnam memorial into a more elaborate place of attention where people can sit and reflect.
A “blood trail” of red-colored pavers would lead to the plaque with the names of the fallen, surrounded by pavers colored gray to represent sorrow. The site will be traversed with small raised stone borders and landscaped with flower stands and shrubbery. It will also include flagpoles and lights, three granite benches, and small granite towers topped with the service medallions of the nation’s military branches.
All told, Wills said, the project has been estimated at $140,000. But that figure includes the value of design, construction, and related services, and the committee already has commitments from organizations and businesses to donate those.
Already the campaign has raised about $10,000 in cash but estimates it will need several times that amount to buy the material and accessories. “Just yesterday I received a check in the mail for $100 from a lady in Alabama who used to go to Holmes and heard about this,” Wills said.
The committee is collecting donations and also hopes to sell 750 “bricks” that, for $35, people can have engraved with their name or their family’s name (three lines, 13 characters per line, including spaces).
Final decisions need to be made about details like the size of the flagpoles and whether to reuse the existing boulder and plaque. But the latter is unlikely, given that at least one name needs to be added, he said.
The committee also is discussing the timeline for construction, including whether to begin site work now or wait until certain fund-raising thresholds are met.
“We’ve been working on this for three years, but I’m pretty confident we have all the issues worked out,” Wills said.
'An unpopular war'
In many people’s minds, it’s especially critical to make the memorial more prominent given the history of the era and the national protests against both the war and the soldiers ordered to fight it.
Covington, they say, needs a memorial that strongly demonstrates the community’s pride in the service and sacrifice of its native sons.
Wills was awarded both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his valor in combat and his actions during several night-time ambushes while assigned to a recon unit. From his days at Holmes High School, he knew several of men whose names are on Covington’s plaque, including Sgt. Welch and Seaman Pierce.
“History was such that, even when the war ended, this was an unpopular war,” he said. “People came home, and it was pretty tough. It was a difficult time. ... But soldiers are looked at a little differently now.”
Covington Mayor Joe Meyer praised the committee’s work and said the City has been encouraging and supporting the effort in a number of small ways. He said he just can’t get over the 30 names.
“That’s an incredible number,” Meyer said.
How to donate
People can make cash donations to the Covington Vietnam Fallen Memorial or buy $35 engraved bricks in several ways:
- Contribute electronically at a gofundme page, HERE.
- Mail a check made out to “CVFM” to CVFM, 42 Tripoli Lane, Fort Mitchell, KY 41017.
- Drop off a check to American Legion Post 203, located at 3801 Winston Avenue, or Marshall Schildmeyer VFW Post 6095, at 343 E. 47th St.
For questions, you can call Chuck Wills at (928) 231-4896.
The current plaque is attached to a stone in the corner of Meinken Field.
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