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'Let's get to work,': Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Memorial moves forward with $2.5 million grant

Posted at 7:01 PM, Oct 03, 2023

PAPILLION, Neb. (KMTV) — About a year and a half ago, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Sumtur Amphitheater for the Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

However — progress stalled because the project was short on funding.

Until now.

Work is officially underway, after a $2.5 million grant was recently awarded from the Nebraska Department of Veteran Affairs.

Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation President Tom Brown has had it planned out for quite some time

"It's a tremendous relief, after seven years, to finally be standing on the job site, where the dirt has been moved and there's equipment working out here," he said.

It's the place where 400 fallen Vietnam veterans across the state of Nebraska will be honored.

"On one side you got the names of all of them, and on the other side you have the individual tiles with their picture and the date and all that kind of stuff on the wall."

The memorial is centered around educating the younger generation, and all the American people for that matter, on the Vietnam War era and the sacrifices made.

Brown walked us through some of the memorials exhibits.

"So, we will have eleven obelisks. On one side of the obelisk, you got what is going on in Vietnam in that particular year, and on the other side is what was going on in the United States."

The educational pieces don’t stop there.

"We're going to have QR codes on all these displays out here and the kids will be able to learn from what we’ve said and done."

Maybe the centerpiece of the memorial – the refurbished Vietnam War Huey Helicopter that will be on display.

"A guy in Vermont who I knew said, 'Hey Tom, I got a helicopter. We tried to do a memorial but couldn't raise enough money.' I said, 'Well what do you want for it?'” Brown recalls. “He says, 'You want it, come and get it. You pay for the transportation; I'll give you the helicopter.'"

“It could be stand alone," NVVMF Vice President Lisa Jorgensen added.

The helicopter was transported to Iowa Western Community College – where the school's aviation program, military personnel, and Vietnam vets restored it.

The original flight crew caught wind of it from a Vietnam veterans' magazine and reached out.

We were there a year ago when the crew was reunited with it.

"We unveiled it, they signed it. It was a very emotional day — those guys hadn't seen each other in 50 years," Jorgensen remembers.

Jorgensen is also the Senior Director for Community Initiatives at Bellevue University, which has been a big partner of the project.

While she didn't serve in Vietnam, she and her family still felt the impact.

"Several years after my uncle came back, he took his own life, and left a 4-year-old, 18-month-old and his wife,” she shared.

The passion she has for the project has only continued to grow.

"It's just been so amazing, and overwhelming emotionally, to meet these guys and to hear what they went through. We owe them a debt of gratitude, more than gratitude. We owe them this memorial and we owe them support into the future."

We asked Brown — if we told you this memorial would be built back when you first finished serving, what would you say?

"What are you smoking?" He laughed. “I got out of the Marine Corps in '69 and I never talked about Vietnam or being a veteran until the '80s."

The opening ceremony is scheduled for June 6.

You can learn more about the memorial, hear personal Vietnam stories and submit your own, or donate to the foundation by clicking here.

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