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Organizers of Vietnam War Memorial for Salem are finalizing its design as project nears construction phase

Person walking by dark columns.
Conceptual illustration of the Vietnam War Memorial being planned for Salem.

The creators of a Vietnam War memorial at the Oregon State Capitol are asking the public to weigh in on its possible design.

For Steve Bates, the campaign to create a memorial dedicated to the Vietnam War and Oregonians who served has gone on for twelve years. But the need to have one in Salem goes back further.

“The State of Washington put a Vietnam memorial on their capitol grounds in the 1980s,” Bates told KLCC. “The State of California put a Vietnam memorial on their capitol grounds in the 1990s.

Steve Bates in profile shot, smiling.
Provided by VWMF.org
Steve Bates, president of the Vietnam War Memorial Fund.

“Here we are in the 2020s, and we don't have a Vietnam memorial in Salem at all.”

Bates is president of the Vietnam War Memorial Fund. He’s hoping it gets finished soon.

“We've got probably about 90,000 surviving Vietnam veterans here in Oregon at this time, but their average age now is about 75,” he said. “And nationwide, we're losing our Vietnam veterans at a rate of eight to ten per day.”

Bates says the public can review and comment on interpretive panels that have been vetted for historical accuracy through June 10, on the Vietnam War Memorial Fund’s online site.

In its release, the VWMF said the project “aims to help bring peace to the suffering endured by those rejected after returning home.”

The Oregon Capitol Planning Commission, the City of Salem Historic Landmarks Commission, and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission approved the final design.

The 2021 Oregon State Legislature gave its final permission for the memorial by unanimously passing Senate Bill 319, which established the Vietnam War Memorial on the Oregon State Capitol Grounds. Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law in July 2021.

With the exhibit in the final stages of development, the VWMF is seeking feedback on the interpretive panels accompanying the memorial. Each panel will provide visitors with facts and context about the Vietnam War and the role of Oregonians in the conflict.

The release also said the Vietnam War spanned two decades, lasting from November 1955 to May 1975. By 1968, the United States had over 500,000 personnel in Vietnam, with 2.7 million Americans serving during the conflict. Of the 58,318 Americans who died, 710 were Oregonians. Four Oregon families lost two sons each.

Bates added that the current expense is $4.1 million, though the contractor is reviewing construction documents and they hope to have a more current estimate of real time costs. The VWMF is working with private donations, foundations across Oregon, and is asking the state legislature for $1.85 million in lottery revenue to help pay for it.

Approved layout and plan for Vietnam War Memorial.
Image provided by VWMF.org
Approved layout and plan for Vietnam War Memorial.

Organizers say anyone who wants to learn more about the fund for a Vietnam Memorial on the Oregon State Capitol—and provide feedback on the interpretive panels—can go to www.vwmfund.org. There is an overview video and nine exhibits to review, with a comment section for each. Some demographic questions are included for research purposes. The survey is anonymous, but respondents can include their email if they wish to be added to the memorial's database.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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