Black granite wall. Names of deceased American soldiers. Flags snapping in the wind. The Vietnam memorial wall is designed to have impact. And it does, whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or Perryville, Mo., where eagles soar and farmers work the land nearby.
Vietnam veteran Jim Eddleman offers people a Midwest option to experience the full-sized memorial. Built on 46 acres, it is surrounded by corn and soybean fields, offering visitors fresh air and country quiet to remember those who died in service to their country.
More importantly, it fulfills a promise Eddleman made “to do something” as he carried wounded comrades to a helicopter during the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
Building a memorial wall
About 50 years later, using money he saved and invested while working as a butcher, Eddleman found support and ideas from friends. The nonprofit Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial built the wall, a museum, visitor center and honor flag memorial. Dedicated in May 2019, “America’s Wall” is open 24/7 with no appointment or entry fee. However, donations are accepted.
“The black granite came from India, just like the Washington, D.C., memorial,” says Nancy Guth, executive director of MNVM. “It’s oriented the same way with the sun. The only differences are in D.C., you walk down into it, and we etched our walls instead of engraving them.”
Even the smallest details are replicated. The names misspelled on the D.C. wall are spelled the same on the MNVM wall.
More than a monument
Being outdoors, the nearly 500-foot wall accommodated social distancing and attracted daytrip visitors in 2020. But pandemic restrictions ended events such as veterans’ breakfasts and limited use of the museum and visitor center. MNVM lost two dedicated volunteer veterans to COVID-19.
Eddleman, Guth and the MNVM board and volunteers hope to honor those volunteers and bring back events and debut new displays in their in-progress museum. Eddleman is especially excited about two machine guns: a Browning M2 (Ma Deuce .50-caliber) developed at the end of World War I, and a Browning 1919A4 .30-caliber machine gun first used during World War II.
“I worked on this for over two years and finally got hold of the right contact,” Eddleman says, adding the guns will be a big draw, along with a Korean War era jeep coming soon.
Bringing peace to loved ones
Memorial Day will be special with a wreath presentation with small roses sent in by supporters. Many lost family members in Vietnam, and Eddleman has been touched by their experiences.
One visitor has come most Saturdays since 2019, before the granite was installed on the concrete wall. He’d visited the D.C. memorial and knew which panel his brother’s name was on. He leaves flowers and trinkets near the panel, and once brought a large wooden sign that said "TYJE," meaning thank you, Jim Eddleman.
Eddleman recalls a Michigan woman who traveled to see if the memorial was as great as people were saying. Her husband was killed in Vietnam just before they were to meet in Hawaii, he explains. Instead, she laid him to rest in Arlington Cemetery. She was moved by the MNVM experience and left a pamphlet about her husband to share with others.
Eddleman, who lives with his wife, Charlene, near the memorial, visits often, to mingle with visitors and simply be alone.
“It’s so peaceful and quiet. I can sit and reflect and remember, and hopefully get some healing,” he says, noting there’s a different mood at night.
“MNVM hopes to provide healing and comfort,” Guth says. Organizations such as the Wake Foundation bring busloads of veterans for daytrips, and they can also visit Perryville’s American Tractor Museum.
Finding local support
MNVM volunteers also work with school and other groups. Other wars will be featured in future museum additions.
With support from Jackie Smith, a former St. Louis Cardinals football star, and donors who purchase bricks, benches, trees and support fundraisers, MNVM is working on several projects. A veteran’s hall, chapel and reflecting fountain are coming soon. Eventually the nonprofit plans to have a cemetery for veterans.
“When I made the promise, I had no idea what it would be,” Eddleman notes. “This turned out way, way more than I expected.”
“We are in control, not the government, and veterans are appreciative of that,” Guth adds. Visitors can look at the wall anytime, and visit the welcome center and museum during regular hours. Call for hours, as they continue to change during the pandemic.
MNVM is located off Interstate 55 at 1172 Veterans Memorial Parkway, Perryville. For more information, visit mnvmfund.org or call 573-547-2035.
George is a freelance writer from Parkers Prairie, Minn.