A memorial to Vietnam veterans was dedicated on Veterans Day on Nov. 11, 2015 in Doral’s Veterans Park and the story was reported in several local community newspapers.
The starkly realistic work is that of artist Richard Arnold of Telluride, CO. The memorial was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Norman Ralph West of the Redland. West, a Vietnam War veteran, served with the First Cavalry Division in 1965.
It was Arnold who has done many sculptures honoring Vietnam veterans who called its attention to Michael F. Walsh, 68, a Maryland teacher and Vietnam veteran who arrived in Miami in January on an uncommon mission to photograph and document every Vietnam memorial throughout the United States.
“As a Vietnam veteran, it has long been my desire to visit and honor as many memorial sites as I can,” explained Walsh, visiting the Doral park to photograph the bronze image of an infantryman’s rifle, since removed temporarily for a second dedication on Memorial Day in 2016.
“In retirement, I have the time to make my dream a reality. The process has caused me to realize we are not alone, as we often feared. Uncounted numbers of people — friends, families and complete strangers — have welcomed us home by building or visiting these memorials.”
In May of 1989, Walsh, still not wanting to recall the conflict, stood among the crowd at the dedication of the Maryland Vietnam Memorial.
“As I stood at the foot of the Hanover Street Bridge (now “Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Bridge), I remember thinking about it and how my feelings had changed. Standing amongst the throng, I thought, ‘I wonder if anyone else is doing anything?’”
That moment of curiosity led Walsh to contact the Center for Indo-Chinese Studies in Maryland and discover “they had catalogued a number of sites, either complete or proposed, around the country. They kindly sent me their complete list,” Walsh recalled.
During a cross-country trip to Alaska with a fellow teacher, he decided to begin photographing listed Vietnam memorials in Alaska, Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico, becoming in his words: “The foundation of what was to become this adventure.” His full story is described in an ongoing blog at ameanstoheal.org.
As years passed, Walsh “continued to dream of completing this project. More and more states were building memorials and I wanted to see them, honor them, and record them for others to see.
“ I knew that most people would never get to see most of them and now that the country was dealing with how Vietnam vets were treated upon return from the war and finding a way to say, ‘Welcome Home,’ I wanted to help spread the message by sharing these sites.”
On one trip, a Washington Post editor became fascinated with Walsh’s story and published an account of his travels on Memorial Day 2010, eventually leading to the discovery of more tributes to photograph and write about.
“People in 67 countries now follow my blog,” he said.
Chapters of Vietnam Veterans of America use his site for vets who suffer from PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) as does the National Institute of Mental Health. Since 2009, Walsh has traveled to all 50 states, taken thousands of pictures and met people who share their stories.
“Schoolteachers tell me they use my photos and writings to plan lessons about Vietnam,” Walsh said. “However, I only understood the true meaning and value of this project when I heard from a vet who had seen my work and told me ‘I have been in therapy twice a week for more time than I care to remember, but after seeing this, I know I’m going to get well.’
“One way we demonstrate we understand is by building memorials, and welcoming Vietnam vets back into our arms,” added Walsh who plans to publish a book about his uncommon journey, already titled A Means To Heal, for which he is seeking a publisher.
“As a nation, we have come a long way since Vietnam. We have a saying around my house. If there is a silver lining, I will find it. I believe the silver lining to Vietnam may be that we have learned as individuals and as a nation to never treat veterans like we treated ‘Nam vets, again.
“My hope is that others, like me, will derive some benefit, some peace and understanding, and some healing,” Walsh concluded.