After years of neglect and abuse, the Lompoc Vietnam War Memorial is getting a much-needed face-lift.
The memorial, which is located in the northern corner of River Park, had fallen into a dilapidated state over the past 24 years due to a number of reasons, including a lack of consistent maintenance and general disregard by some visitors.
A couple of local veterans decided that enough was enough, however, and have teamed with a local veteran support organization to bring the remembrance site back to a satisfactory condition.
“I’m doing this for my brothers who served and my brothers who fought and died in Vietnam,” James Baldwin, one of the volunteers, said in between pulling up tiles at the memorial. “They were underappreciated enough.”
Baldwin, an ex-Army Ranger, and Donald Nigh, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, began the restoration work Monday morning. They anticipate finishing the project — which will include placing new tiles on the structures of the memorial, as well as the ground inside and leading up to it — by Friday.
Baldwin and Nigh are each volunteering their labor for the restoration. The new tiles that they will use on the memorial were purchased by the Rancho Purisima Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR, which raised about $7,000 last year with its inaugural Patriot Dinner to help fund the Vietnam memorial repairs.
Baldwin said his wife, who was raised in Lompoc, initially alerted him to the state of the memorial after she read about it in the Lompoc Record article published May 31.
“Nobody wanted to step up and help out with this thing, so I figured to hell with it, I’ll do it,” said Baldwin, who works as an independent tile setter in Monterey County.
Baldwin reached out to Nigh, who lives in Lompoc, through social media and the two of them joined together to get it done.
Nigh said he didn’t hesitate when he was asked to be part of the effort.
“I was pretty disappointed to see that it got to the condition that it has,” he said of the memorial. “I knew one of the guys that kind of spearheaded getting this thing put in, and I’m pretty sure he’s long since passed, but he was real passionate about it. I happened to know the guy, and had many, many conversations with him.
“It was kind of his passion and that fueled me to take an interest in it now that it needs to be fixed.”
Baldwin is staying with his in-laws in Lompoc this week while he works on the memorial. He said that both his in-laws are veterans, so they had no problem putting him up.
He said he was also inspired by his late grandmother, who had been a member of the DAR in Santa Barbara County. Knowing that the local DAR chapter was involved in this restoration, he said, gave him extra motivation.
The duo began work by stripping all the tiles from the memorial. Many of the tiles were already broken or missing due to weather damage and suspected vandalism from skateboarders and others. They planned to grind down problem areas and begin coating and placing the new tiles as the project progressed.
Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby was at the site Monday offering assistance. Mosby brought a generator for Baldwin and Nigh to power their tools with, and also loaded his truck with the old tiles to take to the dump.
"It's good someone's finally doing something," Mosby said.
Baldwin was involved in choosing the new tiles that will be used, materials that he said will make the memorial “as damage-proof as possible, hopefully, from here on out.”
“As long as it’s kept clean and people respect it, to a point, there’s no reason it shouldn’t last a lifetime,” he said.
The memorial was initially funded and constructed by the since-disbanded volunteer group Vietnam Veterans of Lompoc Valley. It was unveiled in October 1992 and hosted several Memorial Day programs in the years that followed.
The site hasn’t been a part of any public Memorial Day ceremony in three years, however, due to its “deplorable” condition, according to local Air Force veteran Joe McCormick, who put on the ceremonies and is a Vietnam veteran himself.
Members of the local chapter of the DAR, which will host its second Patriot Dinner fundraiser Sept. 10, have shared some other improvements they’d like to bring to the memorial.
Those include painting the flagpoles, adding a protruding barrier around its exterior to prevent damage from lawn care equipment, and placing a marker at River Park's entrance to notify visitors that there is a memorial on the premises.
Nigh said he’d be in favor of the city, or some other organization, hosting a reopening ceremony for the memorial once all the work is completed.
“It would bring attention back to the fact that this is out here,” he said. “Honestly, I think many members of the community are completely unaware that this even exists.”