Often it’s too easy for the cost in lives to become lost in statistics.
A recent project by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10904 brings home the scale of the loss of life during the Vietnam War with a memorial display to fallen veterans.
The collection displays one toy soldier for every American veteran killed – exactly 58,479 little green Army men. The project was something of a miracle in the making.
VFW commander Kimberly King said that the first real miracle of the project was when All American Enterprises’ founder Micah Roberts, who volunteered to build the commemorative display to house the toy soldiers, ordered the supplies.
“He did not specify any particular wood, or where it came from, for the display but Micah said that when he was unpacking the crates, every piece of wood was stamped Made in Vietnam. Our Vietnam display would be made using Vietnam wood.”
Then there was the not-so-small task of collecting (and counting) 60,000 toy soldiers.
In the months leading up to the event, Ed Reader, a VFW member and 95 year old World War II veteran, Marian Harris, the 86-year-old VFW Auxiliary Chaplain and King, was responsible for the counting and sorting.
The collection amassed to 14 large boxes total when the collection ended in November. Soldiers were donated from churches, schools, organizations, children, veterans and the general public.
“We collected them at nearly every event that we attended. So, for example, at our VFW district meeting, we were given soldiers by members of other VFW posts. One lady called with a bag from a church. Some were mailed from other states and some were collected at our monthly VFW fundraiser breakfast,” King said.
In November, the post received 13,000 soldiers from Cowan Elementary School.
The second miracle came around in early March 10 after Roberts had built the display case.
“We began to put the soldiers in the case, counting as we went,” said King.
But the count seemed off, so she returned to collect a bin of loose soldiers from the post. When the counting was finished there were exactly 58,479.
“What this miracle. We did not have a single toy soldier in excess nor were we short by a single soldier. We all saw it as a solid miracle,” King said.
Many soldiers that were donated bare the names of loved ones. And eight pink toy soldiers are included in the display to represent the eight veteran nurses killed in the Vietnam war.
A small open box was added to the front with the MIA/POW logo on the back. This symbolizes those missing in action and those who were prisoners of war. A small LED red light was added for effect.
Posted sentinel, a bronze eagle on top was a gift given to us that evening by our Tennessee State VFW award winning teacher, James Hoggard.
The display is housed at the Coffee County Veterans Building located at 130 Shelton Road, but can be wheeled to other events as needed. Also, we did not specify the size of the soldiers.