For much of the last two decades, local Air Force veteran Joe McCormick has played a large role in bringing annual Memorial Day ceremonies to Lompoc’s River Park, the site of the city’s Vietnam War Memorial.
On Monday, however, much like each of the previous two Memorial Days, the back section of River Park remained mostly silent and empty. The lack of a program for the third straight year was due in large part, McCormick said, to the “deplorable” state of the remembrance site.
“I was hoping to do a program again here this year for Memorial Day,” he said Tuesday, “but in this condition, I just can’t do that.”
As problems worsen at the site, McCormick, who served in Vietnam, said he and other veterans are hoping to bring about change.
“This is not something new,” he said.
Whether from the city of Lompoc, a veteran support organization or a collection of volunteers, improvements soon could be on the way.
Assessing the damage
The nearly 24-year-old memorial certainly has seen better days.
Several black marble tiles that cover the memorial’s small structures are either broken or missing completely, and a similar fate has befallen many of the ground tiles leading up to and inside the monument. Additionally, many of those marble tiles are visibly weathered and stained.
Weather can be to blame for some of the damage, but McCormick and others suspect that vandalism also has played a large role.
Thomas Perreault, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army, goes to the site almost every day, often with his dog. He said he’s seen skateboarders ride on elements of the memorial, primarily the sloping wall that serves as a backdrop, and also has seen children playing on the pillars.
Perreault said he’s gone as far as telling a person to get his kids off the memorial because “it just isn’t right.”
McCormick said stories like those don’t surprise him.
“Nobody seems to care about it,” he said. “Kids go out there and skateboard everywhere and rip up the tiles.
“In Texas, they put you in jail for this,” he added. “It might sound like a petty thing, but you don’t do this in Texas.”
Perhaps no one has had a closer view of the memorial’s physical decline than Perreault.
The Lompoc resident was there when the memorial first opened in October 1992 and was present when the site hosted its first Memorial Day ceremony in May 1993.
As he’s watched it deteriorate over the years, Perreault said he can’t help but get the impression that many local veterans just “don’t care about the memorial.”
McCormick said that isn’t entirely true.
The memorial was initially funded and built by the volunteer group Vietnam Veterans of Lompoc Valley to honor the 14 veterans from the Lompoc area who died in the war. That organization disbanded not long after the memorial was completed, and it was left in the care of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 570, of which McCormick is commander.
McCormick said he’s done what he could to maintain the site — including replacing the U.S., California and POW/MIA flags when they become tattered — but that a lack of funds has prevented more comprehensive maintenance from taking place.
The city and/or supporters could help with that issue.
Although the memorial was not constructed by the city, it is located within a city park, which means the city could feasibly fund improvements.
To that end, Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said Tuesday that he plans to add renovations to the memorial to the city’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) list if no other volunteer group or person steps up to care for it.
“Being placed on the CIP does not guarantee that the project will become funded, as our list of needs is far greater than our resources,” he said.
At least one local organization has taken up the cause.
Members of the Rancho Purisima Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR, met with Wiemiller last year with plans to raise funds to refurbish the memorial. Those plans, which were strictly for a one-time restoration project, were approved by Wiemiller.
The DAR reported that it raised about $7,000 at a fundraiser in October, with some of the money slated to go toward the Vietnam memorial.
Sue Huseman, a member of the local DAR chapter, said Tuesday that those improvement plans still are in place but that an unforeseen tragedy has caused a delay.
Vietnam War veteran Ron Fairbanks initially had written up the scope of work for the project and was planning to perform much of the physical labor himself, Huseman said. That all changed when Fairbanks unexpectedly died in late April.
“We’re just kind of stopped in our tracks because of Ron’s death,” Huseman explained.
Still, she said the project is expected to endure.
The DAR hopes to replace the tiles at the site, paint the flagpoles and add a protruding barrier around its exterior so that the tiles will be less likely to be damaged by lawn care equipment like lawnmowers and weed wackers. The group also has plans to place a marker at River Park's entrance to notify visitors that there is a memorial on the premises.
Huseman said the DAR will hold another fundraiser in September and would like to have the project completed this year by Veterans Day, which will be Nov. 11.
“The labor is what’s expensive,” she said, adding that she’s hopeful people will volunteer to help offset those costs.
McCormick, who has two sons who served in combat, said the memorial is near and dear to him.
If others are willing to join the effort, he said he would be interested in meeting with city officials to develop a plan for the memorial’s regular maintenance going forward.
Wiemiller said he’s willing to sit down with anyone who has suggestions.
“The city is definitely open to having a volunteer group organize and plan work to refurbish and, then, maintain the memorial, as was the original concept and proposal,” he said. “However, I really believe it needs to be a well-organized effort with committed people ... so that we can be sure that the end product is one of adequate quality to properly honor our Vietnam veterans.”
In the meantime, McCormick said he's reached out to the organizing committee of the proposed Fallen Warriors Memorial that is being planned for construction at Beattie Park to honor all Lompoc-area veterans who were killed in combat.
“I want to bring this to their attention so that it doesn’t happen to their memorial,” he said. “This is more than just building it. They have to be maintained, and they have to be kept up and respected.”