Siouxland Freedom Park tributes

Mike Newhouse, president of Siouxland Freedom Park Inc., on Thursday holds a flag that was left at the park's half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in South Sioux City. Items left at the wall will be incorporated in an interepretive center planned for the park.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | The setting surrounding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall leads to reflection and remembrance.

Follow River View Drive in South Sioux City along the banks of the Missouri River and you come upon the wall in Siouxland Freedom Park.

Birds chirp and sing in the trees beyond the memorial. Grass continues to take root. Young trees nearby show the promise of someday being a beautiful arboretum. A giant American flag waves in the breeze.

It's a peaceful site for a memorial honoring those who died in the Vietnam War.

"Numerous people who have been to the wall in Washington say this is the perfect setting," said Mike Newhouse, president of Siouxland Freedom Park Inc., the volunteer group that raised the money to build the memorial, an exact half-scale replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C.

"To this day to our amazement, there are people in this community who don't even know it's here."

Vietnam veterans do.

So do others who know someone whose name is among the more than 58,000 that appear on that wall.

They come at all hours, leaving behind flowers, flags, coins, medals, campaign ribbons, name strips taken from military fatigues, photos and other mementos that hold some special meaning of their relationship to a long-lost friend or relative.

Newhouse displays a folded American flag left at the wall. Tucked inside is a folded piece of paper. Written on the paper are 17 names and their location upon the wall. A Marine pin is stuck through the paper.

It brings to mind the stories of items left behind at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Local supporters of the Freedom Park's wall expected to see much the same when the black granite wall was built and dedicated a year ago on this quiet spot on the southeast edge of South Sioux City.

"For Vietnam veterans, this was a dream come true," Newhouse said.

Like the memorial in Washington, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is open around the clock. Wi-Fi at the site enables visitors to use their smartphones to access a website on which they can look up names of those on the wall and find their location.

And leave their tributes.

"We'll leave them on display for a little bit," Newhouse said, "then we'll collect them and put them on display when we get the interpretive center built."

That's the next step in the Freedom Park plans. Newhouse said it was hoped that construction of the 12,000-square-foot center would begin this spring, but $1.5 million still is needed.

Once the center is built, Newhouse envisions a gallery inside with a display of items left at the wall.

It's a display that will only grow.

That people would drop off items to honor their friends and family was no surprise, Newhouse said. What's been surprising is the number of Vietnam veterans living in the area. Newhouse knows many of them. But he's met people from the community at the wall, people whom he had no idea had served.

It shows that the memorial is important to many still dealing with loss and grief from a war fading deeper into our nation's past.

"When this went up, you can't imagine the impact it had" for veterans, Newhouse said.

It's had an impact beyond veterans.

For those of us who didn't serve, the memorial is a reminder of how grateful we should be to those who did.

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Court reporter

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