The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum will place a 360-foot-long replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on its property along O'Day Road, creating what officials expect will become a tourist destination.
Greg Bedford, commander of the nonprofit shrine and museum on Fort Wayne's west edge, announced Monday the organization is buying a retired traveling replica from American Veterans Traveling Tribute of Bullard, Texas.
“Our goal is to have it installed before Veterans Day of 2020. And if we can do it sooner, so be it,” Bedford said in a telephone interview. Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11 every year.
The anodized aluminum wall features the inscribed names of more than 58,000 Americans who died or were unaccounted for during the Vietnam War. At 8 feet tall and 360 feet long, it is 80% as large as the black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum seeks to raise as much as $300,000 in donations of money, materials and labor, Bedford said. The sum would cover the wall purchase, its foundation, landscaping, lighting, security cameras, a sidewalk and benches.
As part of the purchase agreement, American Veterans Traveling Tribute cannot sell a replica memorial wall for permanent placement within a 250-mile drive of the version that will be at 2122 O'Day Road, Bedford said. Currently, the closest one to Fort Wayne is in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Rebecca True, chief operating officer of American Veterans Traveling Tribute, said the local shrine is buying the first of the company's two traveling walls. It had been on the road since 2008.
“We decided to retire it, and rather than putting it into storage, we decided to sell it and let it have a good resting place where it can be honored and viewed,” True said in a phone interview.
Visitors will be able to use a software program to find the location of individual names on the wall, she and Bedford each said.
True said American Veterans Traveling Tribute is focusing more on producing and selling replica walls for permanent placement. Bedford's organization is the company's seventh customer.
The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum also announced plans to raise money to build separate monuments to World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Middle East war known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Another new monument will pay tribute to Gold Star Families – immediate family members of war dead.
“We believe the community support is there. We believe that corporate sponsorship for the individual memorials is a possibility,” he said.
The completion target date for the five monuments is Veterans Day in 2021.
“We believe we can get there,” Bedford said about all the projects. “We can have a destination for Fort Wayne that is going to be an additional point of interest for our visitors to Fort Wayne. We think it is going to be an economic driver that will support what we are trying to do, and that is a memorial to all wars and all men and women that gave all.”
The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum is financed entirely by donations. Bedford said donors contributed more than $75,000 for recent renovations at the shrine, which was started in 1950 by World War I veteran Eric Scott and his wife, Cleo.
Bedford said Eric Scott's mission has been the inspiration for improvements at the shrine and museum.
“We have the ability, we have the property, and quite frankly we have the drive and the desire to make that statement that he made in a trench in World War I over in France come true – and that is to make sure that no veteran is ever forgotten,” he said.
The shrine's website is honoringforever.org.