This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1973 signing Paris Peace Accords ending combat operations between the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
A half century later, on November 11, in Murrieta the unveiling and dedication ceremony of a memorial to those who served during that war will take place at 12:30 p.m. at Town Square Park following the city’s annual Veterans Day Parade.
The Vietnam War Memorial is the newest addition to a project proposed 17 years ago to honor all those who have served in America’s wars.
In May of 2006 Murrieta officials and a group of community members, including some who served during the Vietnam War, met to discuss adding a memorial to the city’s planned Town Square Park to honor those who had served in our nation’s military.
Among those in the meeting was Jim Holston, who had been hired as a parks supervisor not long after Murrieta incorporated in 1991 and eventually became an assistant city manager. Holston was a combat wounded Vietnam War veteran.
Also attending was Murrieta City Councilman Rick Gibbs (Colonel, Air Force ret.) who flew fighter aircraft during that war.
Initially the cost of the entire project was pegged at $2 million. The city committed $500,000 with the remaining $1.5 million to come from private donations.
Groundbreaking for the memorial was held on Veterans Day in 2009. Priority was given to construction of the World War II monument whose remaining veterans were well into their 90s.
The World War II and towering obelisk were unveiled on Memorial Day in 2010.
Mock-ups of the other memorials planned at the site, including the Vietnam Memorial, were also erected in order to spur community interest, said Leah Kolek, Murrieta’s Parks and Community Services Manager.
The Korean War monument was unveiled in 2011 and other features of the Veterans Memorial, the Honor Garden (2013) and Fallen Warriors monument (2015), have since been introduced.
However a series of events, including construction costs, supply chain issues, and a dwindling amount of private donations, pushed back construction of the permanent monument to Vietnam Veterans.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 2.7 million men and women served in the military during the Vietnam War Era. More than 58,000 of them made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
Among them was William Bullard who graduated from Elsinore High School in 1960. In addition to being the school’s ASB President, Bullard was a second team all De Anza League football player and was voted the school’s best overall athlete.
On Aug. 25, 1966, Bullard, then a U.S. Navy Reserve lieutenant junior grade, launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany in his A4E Skyhawk on a night combat mission over Vietnam.
The plane developed mechanical difficulties shortly after takeoff and plunged into the sea. Bullard’s remains were never recovered.
In 2020 there were 503,000 living Vietnam Veterans in California. By 2025 that number will fall to 384,000 and by the end of the decade just 284,000 Vietnam Veterans will be living in California.
In October 2019 Waste Management, Inc., the city’s waste hauler, stepped up and made a $500,000 donation specifically to finish construction on the Vietnam Memorial, Kolek said.
The contract to build the monument was awarded in June 2023. Construction began in mid-July and was recently completed.
There are plans to complete other memorials at the site honoring those who served in World War I, the Civil War, the American Revolution and other earlier conflicts.
“Those will depend on future funding,” Kolek said.
Monuments honoring veterans of the Persian Gulf War and the Wars in Iran and Afghanistan are to be developed.
“We’re hoping some of the younger veterans will pick up that cause,” said Kolek.
The city has extended invitations to Veterans groups around the region to attend the November 11th ceremony, which will include a special surprise, Kolek said, and a concert following the event.
Among those expected to be in attendance are members of the original group who met in 2006 to plan the memorial including Holston, who retired in 2014, and Gibbs who served on the city council from 2005-2018.