A few local veterans may be immortalized in steel and porcelain after a recent visit by representatives of America's Veterans. The not-for-profit organization was founded last year by a Los Angeles-based veterans' activist group whose members are now striving to create an unprecedented memorial for living veterans.Unlike most war memorials, which honor fallen soldiers, a proposed memorial called the Living Wall would pay tribute to living members of the armed services."There has been so much recognition to those veterans who died in wars," said co-chairwoman Peggy Fontenot. "No attention is paid to those who lived."Though its construction has not begun, the wall is planned to comprise a series of linked steel panels, 6 feet tall by 3 feet wide. The panels would be coated in porcelain, with images sketched into the ceramic coating by laser. Each panel would bear the images of eight living veterans, accompanied by replica dog tags beneath each black-and-white photograph. The other side would feature maps of armed conflicts from World War II to the present. Fontenot said the porcelain and steel composite will be costly to produce, but will be resistant to weathering and vandalism.
The organization is currently funded though donations made by members and private fund-raising efforts. The group came to Shawnee last Friday to interview several local veterans. Among those interviewed were Grace and Jack Thorpe, relatives of athlete Jim Thorpe. Grace Thorpe recounted to interviewers her experience in World War II, when she served in civil service. Later volunteered her service in Japan after it was hit by the atomic bomb. Jack Thorpe told interviewers a series of stories from his tour of duty, which included the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. America's Veterans is collaborating with the Library of Congress in its efforts to preserve the stories of living veterans. As the stories continue and more photographs are added, the wall will continue to grow, perhaps indefinitely, Fontenot said.
There are currently 25 million armed services veterans living in the United States. The wall will be arranged in a spiral pattern to allow for constant addition outward. According to the group's estimates, the wall will begin at more than 60 feet with its current number of photographs and names."Veterans are not any one race or creed," said co-chairman James Johnson. "They are everyone that took an oath to serve our society." Though awareness of living veterans is the organization's primary goal, Fontenot said, it also strives to improve the current state of government benefits offered by the department of veteran's affairs. "We have veterans living outside the (Los Angeles) V.A. (hospital) because they are homeless," Fontenot said.
Fontenot claims that poor care and excessive government red tape prevents many veterans from access to benefits. To receive job skills training, a veteran may need to apply three months to a year in advance, she said. "I distinctly recall a man in Indiana who is dying of cancer," Fontenot said. "He is still fighting with Veteran's Affairs for a discharge and could die any day. "Ultimately, America's Veterans will seek congressional hearings to amend V.A. procedures and benefits, Fontenot said. Any living veteran of the armed services may contact America's Veterans to have a photograph placed on the wall or to contribute stories and information for preservation. Requests may be made by calling (310) 396-3660 or online at www.americasveterans.org.