Meet Our Veterans/Local Stories
SO HOW DID UTAH’S VIETNAM MEMORIAL WALL COME TO LAYTON?
A not so short explanation. As I was boarding the plane in DaNang to leave South Vietnam, I looked across the airfield and countryside and made a promise. A promise to those of our young men and women I was leaving behind and those who we had already lost to war, that I would do something. That one day, before I took my last breath, I would do something to make sure people would never forget those American men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in our war. That people would know that we served with integrity, loyalty and love of America, honesty, dedication, and with valor. I always refer to the Vietnam War as our war because we paid for it; with our youth, our innocence, our blood, our best girl back home, and many of our lives. To not claim it today as our war would be to say more than 58,000 of our service members died for nothing. It was November 1967, I had traveled from Dong Ha near the DMZ and I was headed home. I had been “in country”, “boots on the ground”, since early 1966. Stars and Stripes, our newspaper to the troops, kept us up-to-date that nearly 20,000 of our young American military had already lost their lives. But our window to the world back home also gave us blow-by-blow pictures of the anti-war situation and demonstrations going on at home. We had faced many hostilities in Vietnam and were confident that we could take on anything. But for many, returning to the magnitude of societal rejection was anything but what we could be prepared for. Rejection by so many; back in the good ol’ US of A. So, I made a promise. I believe the impact of knowing what was happening at home caused me to be angry, sad, afraid, and determined to prove a politically confused and angry nation to be wrong. Thus, I made a promise that as I grew older, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep. I was raised to be sensitive about my word, my promises and my goals. Growing up in the home of a World War II Veteran is also why I couldn’t check out of this life without making good on my promise. Fast forward to 2014, nearly 50 years later, I had returned from a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and was visiting with Kim Wixon (former Director of the George Wahlen Veterans Home) about traveling walls and our conversation turned to a permanent Wall in Utah. Several small traveling monument Walls had been in the area and although hundreds of people had visited them there were many more who hadn’t had the opportunity during the 3 or 4 day visits. We discussed my promise, the cost of such a venture and any anticipated support for such a project. And we put a plan in motion to build a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall somewhere in Northern Utah. This would allow anyone who couldn’t visit the memorial in D.C., for whatever reason; be it financially, health, or time, to see the Wall and for many an opportunity for closure or to visit a friend, comrade, or family member who is listed among the 58,000 on the Wall. Almost immediately, members of other veteran’s organizations told us it could not be done. We took that as a challenge. Telling me that I can’t accomplish something only makes me drive harder to not only prove someone wrong but to be successful. So, a plan was in place; to build a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Roughly 80 percent as large as the iconic Wall on the Mall in Washington, D.C. More than 360 feet in length, almost 10 feet high at its apex, more than likely would touch both goalposts on a football field. Containing all 58,317 names of those brothers and sisters we lost. Next, became the task of finding a home city for Utah’s Wall. One that would partner with us to take on such a huge project. A Wall that would belong to all veterans throughout the Mountain West. I approached three cities in Northern Utah, but none offered the space large enough for the memorial. At this point I remembered that on Memorial Day in 2012 the President had signed a proclamation honoring the service of all Vietnam Veterans and that Layton City was the first city in Utah to issue a proclamation honoring Utah’s Vietnam Veterans. I was honored to accept the proclamation from Mayor Bob Stevenson on behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America. So, with an idea in hand I approached Mayor Stevenson, who arranged a meeting with city officials Joyce Brown, Scott Carter, Dave Price, and others. Three locations were suggested, and I was proud that my input was requested; the site chosen is the current location of our Wall at the Northeast corner of Layton Commons Park – a perfect spot at the arc of Constitution Circle. This was the beginning of the most incredible partnership I could hope for. A partnership between Utah State Council Vietnam Veterans of America, Northern Utah Chapter 1079 and Associates, and Layton City. Then the tough part began; raising the target funds of over $500,000 to build and install the imposing Wall, which would be built out of lightweight anodized aluminum by American Traveling Tribute in Texas, to be adhered to a masonry wall. All names engraved. We talked about money and the goals we had to reach. We found just about every means conceivable we could to raise it. Fundraising mechanisms included a GoFundMe account, information booths, bake sales, fun runs, and sales of honor bricks, “That’s My Brick”, to line the walkway of the Wall. My VVA/AVVA members stood in every type of weather you could imagine, to raise funds. Rain, snow, cold, or heat; they did it all. You would have thought they were training to be mail carriers. I pledged to shake a quarter out of every pocket in Utah – I think we may have done that. Layton City’s support was continuous and magnificent. Our efforts received many large and small private contributions, a RAMP Grant from Layton City and a TTAB Grant from Davis County. In 2016 and 2017, after a three-year lobbying effort and assistance from Senator Jerry Stevenson, the Utah Legislature appropriated two wonderful contributions that helped us reach our fundraising goal. An incredible team accomplished the fundraising. It came from the community, the county, and little kids donating $4.42 to represent the average of one day’s pay earned by each of nearly 20,000 kids on the Wall. A Wall that contains the names of our American heroes, men and women. The groundbreaking was held on Veterans Day in 2017. Site work began in February, 2018. Construction started in March. Layton City Parks and Recreation employee, JoEllen Grandy, designed and oversaw the work. And marvelous Parks and Recreation staff and crews completed much of the work along-side area contractors. The Vietnam Memorial Wall Replica was dedicated on July 14, 2018, in ceremonies that included a flyover of four F-35s from Hill AFB. Attended by more than 2,000 people. Our Wall is a replica and has a few minor differences from the original Wall in D.C. There are 8 benches along the walkway – each one dedicated to one of the women on the Wall; seven Army, one Air Force. At the apex behind the date 1955 I placed a small container sealed in the Wall. It contains an Expeditionary, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign, RVN Cross of Gallantry, and Purple Heart; all items that each of these kids on the Wall earned but never received or wore. Their families did, but now they have them along with some other items important to honoring them in our war. This monument belongs to all of Utah. It’s not just Layton’s or mine. It belongs to every veteran in Utah. It’s a lasting tribute to the legacy of all Vietnam Veterans in the Mountain West and across this great nation. It helps me realize my promise. When I check out I can be seen as a Marine who kept his word.
- Dennis Howland
About this Service Member
- Name: Sergeant Dennis Howland
- Branch: United States Marine Corps
- Years of Service: 8
- Stationed: Vietnam