Watching over the Olympia memorial

When Chuck Manley visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Olympia, he sees much more than most.
Not only is he a Vietnam Veteran, but he is someone who has been been with the project from the very beginning. And today, he is chairman of the Washington State Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee.
Construction of the memorial began in 1986 and it was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 25, 1987. It was designed by Kris Snider, architect with EDAW, Inc., a firm in Seattle. It is a semi-circular wall that stretches partially around a 45-foot base on a rolling course, seven feet tall from the apex, one foot at its lowest point.
According to the State of Washington, the top of the wall represents the highs and lows of the life of the nation until it is interrupted by a jagged line in the outline of Vietnam, symbolizing the break in the circle of life caused by the war. Sixteen green granite slabs make up the wall and are positioned so that they are accessible to all who come to reflect and remember.
The wall is engraved with the names of 1,051 men and women from Washington state who never returned home. The names are listed in chronological order from 1963 to 1975, the order in which those veterans gave their lives. A small cross has been engraved next to the names of those who remain missing in action.
Manley knows the wall well.
“There was previously another memorial,” he said. “It was encased in glass and had the names of those killed in action inside it. But many Vietnam Veterans felt that having those names sealed in stone was like burying them again.
“So we started a campaign to create a memorial where the names could be more prominently displayed.”
The original memorial was dedicated in 1982. The veterans group raised more than $178,000 — the cost to build the new memorial — through private and corporate donations. The new memorial was built on a grassy knoll east of the State Insurance Building on the Capitol Campus, near the Winged Victory Monument. It took the group more then 18 months to raise the money, Manley said.
Once the memorial was built, the group, Vietnam Veterans of America Post #130, disbanded, having done what they formed to do. But Manley and some others decided a committee had to remain to make certain that the memorial continued to be cared for and watched over.
“We are the watchdogs,” he said. “It’s our duty to make sure that the memorial doesn’t fall into disrepair.”
If they see something wrong, they go to the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and ask that it be repaired.
There have been few incidents of vandalism to the memorial, he said. But about a year ago, the committee had to weigh in on a request that a memorial to the Republic of South Vietnam be built near the Vietnam Veterans memorial.
“It was decided that that wasn’t something we wanted to have happen,” he said.
A compromise was made, and they were allowed to place a plaque on flag poles near the memorial. Eventually the flag poles were placed and the American Flag, the Washington State flag and the POW/ MIA flag are prominently posted near the memorial.
“It became quite a battle to stop the placement of a 12-foot long engraving by the group that wanted to memorialize the Republic,” he said. “But we really didn’t think that was something that was right and represented the Vietnam Veterans very well.”
Manley calls the committee a “silent committee” unless an issue comes up. He said many demonstrations have taken place near the memorial, but in order to do that, a permit has to be issued by the State Visitor’s Center.
Manley, who grew up in Kansas, volunteered for service in Vietnam. As a high-school dropout, he enlisted in the Army.
“I didn’t have to go because I was the only surviving male in the family and at the time, that meant I was exempt from service. But I felt I needed to go.”
He was in Vietnam 13 months and three days and was wounded three times.
As the memorial was built, he was there taking photographs almost every day.
“For me it was a way to ‘face the dragon,’ as they say,” Manley said. “As hard as it may be, you have to. There’ll always be good memories and bad memories for those of us who were over there.”