After his 20-year-old son was killed in Vietnam in 1969, Clifford Blend wanted to forget the war and a 26-year career in the Marine Corps that included his own tours of duty in Vietnam. But most of all, he wanted to forget the loss of Clifford Blend Jr. and five other young men from the family's Brandywine neighborhood.
"For many years I just tried to make myself believe it never happened and put it behind me so far I couldn't reach it," Blend said.
But a few years ago, as some of the wounds of Vietnam began to heal, the Blend family started to face the memories and tragedies of that war.
"We were able to talk about it and rationalize it and make some decisions about why we were there," said Blend, 57, a Prince George's County deputy sheriff.
As a result, Blend and two other veterans initiated an ambitious project two years ago to help the county remember the war and honor those who served in Vietnam.
Prince George's County has 86,760 veterans and of those, 32,560 served during the Vietnam era, the National Archives indicates.
After a discouraging, financially unsuccessful start, the project got its first official support last week when the Prince George's County Council approved $20,000 for the memorial. The money was intended to get the project moving toward its goal of raising $300,000, the estimated cost of erecting a monument planned for Upper Marlboro near the County Administration Building.
Several war monuments are already scattered around the county, including a recently dedicated veterans memorial in Cheverly and the well-known Bladensburg Peace Cross. The state of Maryland is planning its own Vietnam memorial in Baltimore, with construction expected to begin in about a year after a design competition is held. The memorial is slated for Federal Hill.
The Prince George's council action, according to Chairman William Amonett, is "something to say, 'Yes, Vietnam veterans, we appreciate your service on our behalf.'
" . . . . I don't think the council would feel they had the money to go out and build the memorial," he said. " . . . . This is seed money to help the private organization get going."
Lee Clayman, a veteran of three wars and one of Blend's partners in the organization, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission of Prince George's County, said the group is still far from its ultimate goal. But it has come a long way from a year ago, when requests for money went unanswered by the council, he said.
"The general mood at the time . . . . hadn't ripened enough to get the kind of money we needed," said Clayman, who owns a consulting firm. "There just weren't enough votes. We didn't want to go through an embarrassing and perhaps vitriolic confrontation with the council."
Blend, Clayman and third partner D.C. "Skip" Vaughan, an Air Force veteran who also served in Vietnam, say they have maintained their vision of the memorial while others were becoming discouraged.
"We gave it up and started up 15 times in our own minds," Blend said. "Things happened that make us feel very dejected," including promises for money and help that did not come through and having to close their office for lack of funds.
But the need for a county memorial was clear, they said.
"Each one of us had experienced some rather nasty situations as Vietnam veterans," Clayman said. He told of being pelted with rotten eggs and spat upon as he came off a plane in Oakland on leave from combat duty in 1967.
"It was a very unpopular military action," he said. "Nevertheless . . . . there were still more than 57,000 who lost their lives over there. There just needed to be some sort of recognition. The county had monuments to people in World War I and World War II. Why not Vietnam?"
No designs have been drawn yet for the memorial, which they expect to build on 1,600 square feet overlooking Schoolhouse Pond. The men hope to have the project completed in three years.
Donations for the memorial can be sent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee of Prince George's County, Box 370, Upper Marlboro 20772.