PAWTUCKET’S 21 VIETNAM WAR HEROES MONUMENT
THE MIRACLE AT SLATER PARK
On May 21st, 1966 Marine Lance Corporal Antonio Maciminio died when shot jumping out of a helicopter into a combat zone becoming the first Pawtucket native killed in Vietnam.
Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Dalton lost his life in a mine explosion on June 9th, 1971 and was the final battle casualty from Pawtucket.
Nineteen other service men from Pawtucket were lost in the intervening years between these two tragic deaths.
On May 21st of this year, 2017, the spirits of these fallen comrades will finally be reunited at a dedication ceremony for the recently installed Pawtucket’s 21 Vietnam
War Heroes monument in Slater Park.
Amazingly after 50 years of somewhat callous neglect towards honoring Pawtucket’s Vietnam casualties this monument to these men was conceived, funded and executed in a single year all with private effort and funds. It is a heart warming example of private citizenry at its best.
The impetus, and soul, of this effort began with the Spring of 2016 publication of a book, “They Heard The Bugle’s Call” written by long time Pawtucket journalist and Vietnam veteran, Terry L. Nau. The author, who has penned two other books about the war, interviewed many relatives, friends and fellow soldiers of the 21 men and soon realized that while there were some small plaques in various Pawtucket neighborhoods dedicated to the individual soldiers nowhere was there a tribute to them honoring their collective sacrifices.
As word of Nau’s book spread amongst people who had connections to the fallen soldiers it was decided to hold a book signing at a small Pawtucket venue. Before the event date it became obvious to all involved, including Nau, that the response was much larger than anticipated. At this point the author , sensing something much bigger than he’d expected, realized the momentum could be put towards a larger cause, building a tribute to these men. On May 21st of last year, exactly 50 years after Lance Corporal Maciminio’s death, rather than a book signing a day of remembrance was held at Slater Park. Over 250 people attended including family members of 13 of the soldiers, many who travelled from all across the country to tell the stories of their loved ones.
One month later 21 Heroes Incorporated was established as a non-profit charity. The outpouring was immediate and near miraculous. Nau started the fund by donating the first $1,000 in proceeds from his book. Large donations came from individuals such as Allen Hassenfeld, former CEO of Hasbro and Madeline Mondor, widow of Ben Mondor the long time owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox. The Pawtucket West High School Class of 1966’s fiftieth reunion became a fund raiser in memory of classmate Army Specialist 4th Class Raymond Michalopoulos who perished on November 21st, 1967. Family members of the slain soldiers contributed $14,000.
The 21 Heroes post office box received multiple donations, big and small, on an almost daily basis. The initial goal of $25,000 was exceeded by $15,000 allowing funds for a future handicapped accessible pathway, landscaping and the dedication ceremony.
Nau recently observed he’d, “…learned more about the heart of Pawtucket in six months than during 30 years as a sports editor for the Pawtucket Times.”
Mayor Donald Grebien and the Pawtucket City Council most graciously, and importantly, allocated the Slater Park site and provided assistance with the foundation.
The monument was installed on May 3rd and May 4th. The 21names are etched into the same type of black African marble used in the Washington, D.C. Memorial. Granite side columns and a crowning pediment inscribed with the words, “Pawtucket’s 21 Vietnam War Heroes” frame the names. Etched into the back side, facing Armistice Boulevard are the final words spoken by 1st Lieutenant Dalton’s widow, Debbie Dalton Polhemus at last year’s ceremony.
“There is no special glory in being the first of the 21 or the last, our stories are all different, but we are connected always by having lost someone we deeply loved, still dream of and forever yearn for whose legacies carry their names, their smiles and their spirit.”
The formal dedication on May 21st, open to the public, will begin at 2:00pm and will also honor all veterans in attendance.
Jim Raftus (email@example.com) is a Vietnam era veteran.