Mayor Michael Nutter paid a visit to some of the city's monuments this afternoon in observance of Memorial Day, including the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial at Front and Spruce streets, where he announced some planned improvements.
"Philadelphia, as a city, has always respected and appreciated military
and public servants," Nutter said after the ceremony as he mingled with attendees and thanked them for their service.
Nutter threw his support behind the Memorial Fund Board
of Directors' plans to make the Vietnam Memorial more visible from Spruce
Street, which will be accompanied by a campaign to educate the public
about veterans' sacrifices during one of the longest military conflicts
in the nation's history. He also said that he'd like to increase fines for those
who deface the monument.
"Both as a citizen and as mayor, I feel it is my duty and responsibility
to make sure to remind people around the city and across generations
that freedom is not free," Nutter said. "Wars have been fought for it and
people have died to make sure we are free."
Right now, the north side of the monument is obscured by thick
shrubbery and walled off with thick granite panels that
are over eight feet high and five feet long.
"It's a great memorial," said Councilman David Oh, a former Maryland National Guardsman and longtime veterans' advocate who recently introduced legislation that would provide tax credits to city businesses that employ former service members. "Not only is it something that should be shared for the sake of never forgetting the fallen and our freedoms, but people driving by can't see it."
As a second part of its "Duty to Remember" campaign, which began with the memorial's restoration in 2009, the Memorial Fund Board is raising a projected $500,000 to open up the panels and landscape the park to make the Spruce Street entrance more inviting and less tempting to would-be vandals.
"Veterans attending reunions in Philadelphia have been finding the Memorial, but we hear over and over again that local residents barely know it's there," the Board said in a statement. "...we believe this must change for future generations for whom the Vietnam War could be largely forgotten."
Because while, for many civilians, Memorial Day signifies a government-sanctioned afternoon of hooky or marks the beginning of summer, for those attending today's ceremonies, forgetting is not an option.
Philadelphia-born U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Pat Clancy served in South Vietnam's Central Highlands, a particularly fierce combat area where guerrilla warfare was common. "I have a lot of memories. I remember some friends, schoolmates –" he choked up while recalling those whose lives were lost. "Freedom has a price, which we can never forget," he said as tears streamed down his face. "Believe me, I honor them every day."
Veterans made up 9.9 percent of Pennsylvania's adult population in 2010 and the state ranks fourth in the nation as far as the number of veteran citizens, with an estimated 981,646 vets in 2010 and an additional 6,518 active service members that year, according to the Pennsylvania State Data Center. The Vietnam Memorial is inscribed with the names of 646 Philadelphians who never made it home.
"It's an honor to remember because it could have been us," said U.S. Army Vietnam veteran and member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Color Guard Flint Jackson, who has been participating in Memorial Day services for over 20 years. "Future generations need to remember why they have what they have because a lot of young kids today don't remember their history."
"This is one of the ways we can keep it going," said U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War Charles McBrearty.