Vietnam vets give back with Chesapeake Beach war memorial


Chesapeake Beach Mayor Bruce Wahl, left, and Nam Knights of America Old Line Chapter President Ray “Bomber” Nieves. (Katie Fitzpatrick/The Calvert Recorder /The Calvert Recorder)

Chesapeake Beach residents and visitors will have a new memorial honoring Vietnam War veterans in Veterans Memorial Park, possibly in 18 to 36 months. The Town Council approved the development and construction of the memorial by the Nam Knights of America Old Line chapter Feb. 21.

Ray “Bomber” Nieves, president of the Old Line chapter, said that since the chapter moved its headquarters to Chesapeake Beach about five years ago, the community has made its members feel so welcome, they wanted to show their appreciation.

“When we moved to the Chesapeake Beach American Legion . . . [they] of course knew us as Vietnam veterans . . . so they accepted us. The town didn’t know what to expect of this group of motorcycle guys and gals in leathers,” Nieves said. “The people who looked at us may have had some reservation, but they didn’t show it. They have, in fact, embraced us. That’s what gave me the idea of doing it for the town.”

The memorial, Nieves said, is a way for the chapter to honor the memory not only of Vietnam veterans, but all war veterans.

“What better way to do that than to build a Vietnam Memorial right here in Chesapeake Beach and donate it to the town?” Nieves said. “From our perspective
. . . it is a memorial to all that served, not only in [the Vietnam] War, but actually in all wars.”

Nieves discussed the idea with Mayor Bruce Wahl, a Vietnam veteran, several months ago, then made a formal presentation to the Town Council on Feb. 21 requesting its approval. The council unanimously voted to let the chapter move forward with plans to construct the memorial in the park.

The only “war-specific component” of Veterans Memorial Park, Wahl said, is the World War II honor roll.

“When Ray came to me with this idea many months ago . . . I was honored that [the Old Line chapter] had the idea,” Wahl said. “I think it’s great. I think this is just a fantastic recognition.”

The memorial was designed by Old Line chapter member Bill “The Professor” Faxon. It will be made of granite and stand 4 feet 6 inches tall. Wahl said an exact location has not been determined.

Faxon’s design drawings show a three-dimensional triangle on top of a pentagon base, Nieves said. Faxon’s original design had the triangle structure on top of a circle. Nieves suggested changing that to a pentagon because the Pentagon building, which houses the Department of Defense in Arlington County, “is the brain where all military decisions are conducted,” he said.

“The foundation of our military is the Pentagon,” Nieves said, “and it is what unifies all branches of services, all military action [and] all commitments.”

A specific timeline for when people can expect to see the memorial in the park has not been set, but Nieves said he hopes the memorial will be constructed within 18 to 36 months. Nieves said there has not been a final price estimate, but donations are being accepted.

During the 20 years of the Vietnam War, Nieves said, 300,000 Americans were wounded, more than 58,000 were killed in action and 75,000 were permanently disabled from injuries received in the war.

When Vietnam veterans came home, they were not well-received and often were spat on or called names, Nieves said. Some people — like his cousin, who was killed in action during the war — were denied proper burials when their remains were brought home, he said.

Wahl said that when he got out of Vietnam in January 1971, “almost immediately, I basically just completely put it away.” He said although he did not have “terrible experiences” in Vietnam like some did, he did not talk about his time there with anyone because of the reception many veterans received from the public.

Adding the memorial to the park, Wahl said, will help veterans and their families cope with some of the pain they might still feel about the war.

“Now, to, all these years later, have appropriate recognition for Vietnam veterans, to me is a healing of some old wounds,” Wahl said.

Nieves said the memorial will let visitors and residents alike remember and honor loved ones who were in the Vietnam War and share their memories with others.

“Visitors . . . will have a place where they can see and understand a little more about Vietnam and . . . they’ll know somebody cares enough to do something for those who fought,” Nieves said.

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