The road to creating the first Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and Vietnam Era Educational Center was not an easy one. It owes its existence to many individuals from various walks of life. Yet, one of the strongest forces behind its creation was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation. This was the group that, through hard work and perseverance made the project a reality.
The Foundation arose out of necessity. It was founded as a non-profit organization in September 1987 in New Jersey. Its purpose was to help the Memorial committee fund and build the country’s first Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Essentially, while the Committee slogged ahead to secure the project, the Foundation addressed any everyday needs required in the construction of and commitment to the Memorial.
The Foundation and Committee saw the realization of the first phase of their dream when the project began in May 1989. New Jersey Governor, Tom Kean, broke ground on the site while General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, veteran groups, members of Vietnam Vet’s families and various state and local officials watched. It was not, however, until 1995, that the project became a reality. On May 7 of that year, then New Jersey Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, came together with General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, family members, officials and at least 15,000 thousand veterans to take part in the unveiling.
This was not the end of the Foundation’s plan. They wanted to go beyond a Memorial to the Vietnam War. They sought the funds and will to create an interpretive museum on the period. They wanted to construct what became known as the Vietnam Era Educational Center.
The process was slow, becoming mired in discussions about what would or could comprise the first exhibit. The initial efforts were rejected, but the Foundation persevered. Three years after the Memorial became a reality, Governor Christine Todd Whitman and former prisoner of war, Arizona Senator John McCain opened the Vietnam Era Educational Center was dedicated.
All the work the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation performs is not possible without the help of volunteers. From the initial planning of the project to today, volunteers have played key roles. They handle paper work, do diverse mailings, sit on the Board of Trustees and sit at the front desk. Volunteers update the files and provide tours annually.
Vietnam Veterans act as tour guides on a regular basis. They help students and other visitors see and understand the conflict. They place this war into perspective. With the help of the Foundation and its volunteers, the Vietnam War becomes living history and not a forgotten conflict.
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