The Journal Gazette
Friday, October 08, 2021 1:00 am

Shrine's board makes impact

Veterans site gets Vandeveer honor

DEVAN FILCHAK | The Journal Gazette

Jerry Vandeveer was overcome with emotion as he spoke before it was announced the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum board is this year's Linda & Jerry Vandeveer Impact Award recipient.

Vandeveer, a Vietnam veteran, shared a story about how his squad had talked about having a reunion eventually. They were separated when he was stationed in Kentucky, and they went off to advanced individual training.

“Years later, I received a letter from one of the guy's sisters, letting me know that they wouldn't be having a reunion because none of the boys from my squad who were shipped over to Vietnam ever came back,” Vandeveer said, unable to continue reading his statement through tears.

His son Jerry Vandeveer Jr. checked in with him before taking over.

“How ironic this is that at 50 years after making a vow to have a reunion, I'm standing here, and they are on the wall over there,” Vandeveer Jr. read, referencing the nearby memorial wall filled with names of more than 58,000 American men and women who died in the Vietnam War.

The Allen County commissioners annually announce a recipient for the award that goes to a recipient who Commissioner Rich Beck said “lives a life of service,” like Vandeveer and his late wife, Linda. 

The Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum board has restored and improved the museum, which had been damaged by flooding. It houses more than 2,000 donated artifacts from the American Revolutionary War to the war in Afghanistan. The 40-acre site is also the permanent home for a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the original of which is in Washington, D.C.

Commissioner Nelson Peters said the work done by the board is impressive.

“They did such a remarkable job taking this thing, bringing it up from the ashes, bringing it up from the field that I used to stand into what it is now,” he said. “And you know what? They're not done.”

The board's plans include a Sterling Chapel, an expansion of the museum, a columbarium to memorialize veterans and a walking path through the history of war with monuments scheduled to be erected.

The shrine's directors received a personal plaque and the board's name will be included on a permanent plaque that is kept in the commissioners' office. They also received $550 from Fire-Police City-County Federal Credit Union, which handles a special account established by an anonymous donor for the award's recipients.

Eric Johnson, one of the board members, made it clear the museum and shrine isn't just about the Vietnam War, it's to remember all veterans. Greg Bedford, the nonprofit's commander, said he is amazed by the work the volunteer directors have done.

“It's a labor of love,” Bedford said.

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