A 50 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated Saturday in Punta Gorda, Florida, following a weeklong tribute to all veterans that culminated in a "Walk of Honor" during which participants carried the names of the more than 58,000 military members listed on the memorial.

The memorial is located in Laishley Park, along the Peace River. Its designers adhered to the criteria set forth for the design of the original Memorial, located in Washington D.C., not far from the Lincoln Memorial. The granite replica contains the names of all killed or missing in the Vietnam War and harmonizes with its surroundings, fronted by a previously-existing pond with a fountain, illuminated at night, and a gazebo.

Park benches are positioned in close proximity. Other Charlotte County veteran monuments are situated nearby. 

Punta Gorda resident Stacy Jones, who says she "comes from a lengthy line of military members" and is married to a Marine, was among those who spearheaded the effort to construct the memorial. Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard E. Carr, a former fighter pilot who flew 900 combat hours in Vietnam and now lives in Punta Gorda, became president of the committee overseeing the fundraising and construction.

The memorial is one of several nationwide small-scale replicas of the original in Washington, D.C.

Photo Credit: Ken Perrotte

Charlotte County is home to a "plethora of veterans who retired here, including many Vietnam veterans," Jones said. "A group of us got together and decided why not build a memorial here, give our veterans a place to heal and also educate our community."

They formed The Vietnam Wall of Southwest Florida Inc., a Florida nonprofit corporation. Jones said the first fundraiser was in April 2014; since then, more than $625,000 has been collected.

The city of Punta Gorda donated the property as well as considerable engineering time and expertise in ensuring the memorial could withstand the rigors of not only the saltwater environment, but also hurricanes and other harsh weather.

Like the original, the Punta Gorda, Florida, monument includes more than 58,000 names

Photo Credit: Ken Perrotte

Organizers wanted engraved granite for the wall instead of the powder-coated aluminum used by traveling walls (and some permanent ones) to simulate the original. The aluminum was ruled out because of Punta Gorda’s saltwater-influenced atmosphere, Jones said.

The Punta Gorda memorial features engraved granite slabs attached to a thick concrete retaining wall in the "V" configuration of the original memorial. 

Jones said she sees one of the ultimate outcomes of building the memorial is giving the 58,000-plus people listed on it "the respect they deserve." Visitors will be able to do name rubbings along the memorial, similar to those done at the original.

Jennifer Huber, tourism public relations manager for the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau, said she believes the wall will be an attraction to Punta Gorda, whether it's for tourists or people in Southwest Florida who are not able to travel to Washington, D.C.

It's far from the first small-scale replica of the memorial; others can be found in Wildwood, New Jersey; Pensacola, Florida; Enid, Oklahoma; Winfield, Kansas (a wall that includes the names of the war's fallen service members from Kansas); Dinuba, California; and Naperville, Illinois. 

For more, see www.vietnamwallofsouthwestflorida.org.

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