New Vietnam Fallen memorial a place of reflection

Long-awaited dedication Saturday honors 31 from Covington

 who died in the fighting overseas

COVINGTON, Ky. – The focus is on the names – 31 names, immortalized on a bronze plaque – representing 31 young men from Covington who were called to leave their families and fight in a war from which they would never return.

Some five decades have passed since those men and many others like them spilled their blood and last breath almost 9,000 miles away in the jungles, rice paddies, and deltas of South Vietnam.

To ensure they will never be forgotten, a brand-new and relocated Covington Vietnam Fallen Memorial will be dedicated during a ceremony at 1 p.m. this Saturday, at the intersection of 38th and Church streets and Decoursey Avenue.

The old memorial consisted of a flagpole, a plaque and a rock, located in an often-inaccessible site on the outskirts of Meinken Field on Eastern Avenue.

The new memorial is a full-blown place of reflection whose dedication represents the culmination of a vision and tireless effort by the leaders of two veterans organizations in Covington – American Legion Post 203 and Marshall-Schildmeyer VFW Post 6095 – and others who were part of the Covington Vietnam Fallen Memorial Committee.

“It’s been about 4½ to 5 years,” said Denny Madden, who helped spearhead the project and who knew ten of the 31 fallen while growing up in Covington.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer, who will deliver remarks at the memorial’s dedication, praised the committee’s tenacity in shepherding the memorial to its new home.

“They never lost sight of their commitment to honor these 31 young men from our city who gave all,” Meyer said. “This memorial is a beautiful and moving tribute to those men.”

A place for reflection

During the memorial’s journey to its new location, its physical appearance changed too: Thanks to the generosity of many, it became something on a, deservedly, grander scale.

“We looked at several places to get it moved to,” Madden said. “Then Rev. Dan Francis of Latonia Baptist Church offered this piece of property. We were just going to move the monument here, but he wanted more than a rock and two flags.”

Madden said local businesses funded much of the work to create the new memorial. In addition, the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs donated $10,000 and the memorial committee sold 560 pavers for $35, engraved with family’s names or names to honor veterans.

(A 2019 City news release calling attention to that effort can be found HERE.)

The new memorial – located less than a block from the Korean War Memorial at Ritte’s Corner – is both symbolic and moving.

Designed by Bill Baston, the new Vietnam memorial is transformed into a place where people can sit and reflect. A “blood trail” of red-colored pavers leads to the plaque with the names of the fallen, surrounded by pavers colored gray to represent sorrow. It’s bordered by small, raised stones and landscaped with flower stands and shrubbery. It includes flagpoles, lights, granite benches, and small granite towers topped with the service medallions of the nation’s military branches.

“It’s just a great place to meditate,” Madden said. “When you look at the ‘red’ coming down from the center, that’s representative of the blood of the lives that were lost during the war.”

Madden didn’t serve in Vietnam but his brother, William Madden, served in country in 1967-68. William Madden later died in 1975 from cancer related to the Agent Orange defoliant sprayed by the U.S. military to kill vegetation as part of its war strategy.

Of service and remembrance

Chuck Wills, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and received both the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for valor in combat, said the memorial will be an important place for the families of the men whose names are on the plaque.

Wills knew several of the young men when he attended Holmes High School in Covington.

“We are so proud of how this turned out, and we think the families will love it,” Wills said. “The families needed a place where they can come and have their thoughts and be proud of what their sons have done.”

Wills was 19 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He underwent basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., and then shipped out to Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division. Until he enlisted, he’d never traveled outside of Kentucky, Ohio, or Indiana.

“You grow up pretty fast,” Wills said. “You don’t have a choice.”

At one point, Wills and his brother Steve, a former City of Covington police officer, were in Vietnam at the same time.

“We overlapped a bit, and I got to see him one day,” Wills said.

Wills, who helped lead the effort for the new memorial, gives much of the credit for its relocation and expansion to Madden.

“For a guy who’s not a veteran, he has given more time and effort than anyone,” Wills said. “He’s done so much legwork for this.”

Madden is equally gracious, acknowledging the many who donated their time and talents to the project and the companies who donated money. He said the City’s help too was instrumental: “We couldn’t have done it without the City, without Mayor Joe Meyer and the City Commissioners,” Madden said.

The dedication of the Vietnam Fallen Memorial will begin with an invocation by Rev. Francis and remarks from Mayor Meyer. Channel 9 news reporter Craig McKee will emcee the event.

How to donate

People interested in making cash donations to help with maintenance of the Covington Vietnam Fallen Memorial, or who want to purchase one of the few remaining engraved bricks at $35, can do so in a couple of ways:

  • 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 Ave., or Marshall Schildmeyer VFW Post 6095, at 343 E. 47th St.

For questions, you can call Chuck Wills at (928) 231-4896.

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