Friday, April 2, 2004

Viet memorial advocate battled early resistance

'They come here to reflect, to remember what happened and the friends they left behind.'

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Earl Corell of Anderson Township was the driving force behind the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Eden Park.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
EDEN PARK - When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was raised 20 years ago in a corner of Eden Park, the war it captures in bronze was a fresh and painful memory.

Today, the sculpture of a black soldier and a white soldier looking out to an unseen fallen comrade still stirs emotions.

"As long as our generation is still around, and even after, people will debate the war in Vietnam," said Earl Corell, the 55-year-old Vietnam veteran who spent nearly three years in the early 1980s raising money, lobbying public officials and overcoming criticism and bureaucratic roadblocks to have the memorial built.

"What can't be debated," Corell said, standing aside the 6-foot bronze statue on a recent morning, "is the patriotism and sacrifice of those who served, and those who gave their lives."

What: 20th anniversary observance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: The memorial grounds in Eden Park, at Eden Park Drive and St. Paul Place. The ceremony is open to the public.
On Sunday, Corell's dream of a monument to Vietnam veterans will turn 20. Hundreds of veterans, active-duty military and others are expected to gather for a 2 p.m. ceremony re-dedicating the memorial. There will be speeches, a flyover by the Ohio Air National Guard's 178th Fighter Wing and a remembrance of the 374 Cincinnatians who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, along with 55,000 other American soldiers, sailors and Marines.

The ceremony will take place in front of the artwork sculpted by artist Ken Bradford and cast by Cincinnati bronze specialist Eleftherios Karkadoulias and a 60-foot flagpole, erected in the 1930s to commemorate Cincinnati's Civil War veterans.

Corell, a 1968 graduate of Western Hills High School who was drafted in early 1969 and served in Vietnam driving a truck carrying jet fuel, began the push for a Vietnam memorial in 1981, when he was president of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. It was a difficult task, given the still widespread anti-Vietnam war sentiment at the time and the wish of many that memories of Vietnam would go away.

"It was a battle; there was resistance at every turn," said Corell, now a corrections officer in the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

Bill Fee, now general manager and vice president of WCPO-TV, was a Vietnam veteran who helped Corell with the project in the early 1980s, helping manage a weekend radio marathon that raised $27,000 for the project.

"It's amazing how many doors were slammed in Earl's face back then," Fee said. "But it was Earl's persistence that got it done."

In the end, $80,000 was raised, and Corell, Fee and then-Mayor Thomas Brush, also a Vietnam veteran, pushed the Cincinnati Park Board to agree to give space for the monument across from the Eden Park overlook, just north of Krohn Conservatory.

It was a hard sell, Corell said.

The then-president of the park board didn't want the memorial in the park. Cincinnatians who had opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam showed up at public meetings to protest its placement in a public park.

Corell said that for two years after the memorial was dedicated, he avoided visiting it, saying he was "just too burned out from the whole experience.'' But today, he says, he comes by often and almost always sees someone sitting on one of the stone benches surrounding the bronze sculpture. Most of them, he said, are Vietnam veterans.

"They come here to reflect, to remember what happened and the friends they left behind," Corell said. "I'm glad there is a place in Cincinnati for them to do that.''


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