by Becky GINOS
LAYTON—It’s taken 50 years, but for Dennis Howland it’s the fulfillment of a promise made to his fellow soldiers when they were all returning from Vietnam.
“I told my guys that there would come a day when I would do something so the world would never forget,” said Howland, Utah State Council President Vietnam Veterans of America. “I wanted everyone to recognize they served with honor, integrity, loyalty and dedication.”
For the last four years, Howland and many others have worked tirelessly to raise money for a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. to be erected at Layton Commons Park, 437 N. Wasatch Drive. His efforts will culminate at a dedication July 14 starting at 5 p.m. with an Honor Walk to the Wall.
“It will be a respectful walk, not a march,” he said. “We anticipate about 2,000 people, all veterans and veterans’ families or Gold Star families who are connected to someone who is on the wall. We’ll have rides for veterans who can’t walk.”
The walk will start near Wasatch Drive and Hawthorne and be led by a bagpipe group and uniformed military will carry folded flags that will then fly over the monument.
The dedication starts at 6 p.m. followed by a tribute show to the Bob Hope USO tours during the Vietnam era at 8 p.m. in the Ed Kenley Amphitheater. The theater will not open until after the dedication is finished.
“Bob Hope went to Vietnam eight times,” Howland said. “It’s the same show as last year. There’s no cost and we’re giving priority seating to vets in the green section. We’re also asking everyone to wear yellow, red or green. Those are the colors of our Vietnam ribbon.”
Several dignitaries will be on hand for the dedication, with Navy Capt. Ray Padre Johnson as the keynote speaker. “He’s the highest decorated Navy Chaplain from the Vietnam War,” said Howland. “He has two purple hearts and he’s also a nationally recognized artist. He was wounded in the leg and chest but he still carried wounded soldiers out of the rice patties. He saved a lot of guys’ lives.”
Other officials include Keith Harman, National Commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars and John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America.
The wall is approximately 370 feet long, making it 80 percent of the size of the original in Washington, D.C. “If you put it on a football field it would probably hit the goal posts,” he said. “There were 58,317 people killed in Vietnam and eight of those names on the wall are women. They were nurses. We’ll have eight benches surrounding it dedicated to those women.”
Howland and his group have raised well over a half million dollars to construct the wall. “It’s been an incredible team that has accomplished this,” he said. “It’s come from the community, city, county and little kids who donated $4.42 to represent what the guys on the wall made in one day.”
Visitors will be coming from across the country for the dedication. “This is one of the largest replicas in the U.S. and the largest in the West,” said Howland. “This monument belongs to all of Utah. It’s not just Layton’s or mine – it’s Utah’s wall.”