The stone-cold granite wall begs to be touched. Listen carefully and you might think you hear battleground murmurs. Visitors can’t help but finger-trace the engravings that transcend time for a personal handshake with those the wall reveres.

Set amid what was once a cornfield, the only full-scale, exact reproduction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, DC, now stands in Perry County, constructed over the last two years. The wall is part of Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial, a privately funded 47-acre site just north of Perryville that o‹ffers a peaceful area of reflection and honor to those who served or are currently serving.

America’s Wall

The focal point of the memorial is the “Sister Wall,” identical to its counterpart in Washington. Dubbed America’s Vietnam Wall, the granite slabs memorialize the names of 58,318 Americans who died during the Vietnam War.

Yet even before the last granite slab was installed in August, people were coming in droves to view its progress and express heartfelt sentiments. Nearly 3,500 people from surrounding communities took part in the Mark of Remembrance last spring, leaving permanent, handwritten messages on the concrete foundational slabs during the construction period. Those tributes now are forever covered by the granite east and west wings of the memorial wall. In September, the memorial hosted a Letters from Home event after inviting friends and family to write a letter to a fallen soldier from any conflict and any branch of the United States armed forces. Those personal, private letters were placed—unopened and unread—between the memorial’s granite panels and the foundation of the wall right before the structure was sealed.

The messages and the letters serve as written heartbeats, connecting past and present veterans, family, and friends with causes larger than individual lives.

Mike Ross (left) and Eternal Etchings owner Kevin Hale examine granite panels as they are engraved before placement in the wall at Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial.

Etched in Stone

The long list of names beckons irresistibly to visitors. Emily Hale has pondered every letter, worried about inclusion and accuracy of each soldier’s name. Receiving an approved, copyrighted list of current names from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund managers of the original wall took longer than expected. Mistakes were discovered in the first couple of shared list iterations. It was Emily who spent hours comparing one-by-one details before her artist husband, Kevin Hale, began the engraving process for the new wall from their Eternal Etchings shop in Farmington.

As a 17-year specialist in black granite memorials, Kevin previously handled the Perry County Wall of Honor for which he re-created etchings of four Perryville soldiers who didn’t return from Vietnam, using information from newspaper clippings. For the new Sister Wall, the Hales subcontracted with Tim Brewer of Brewer Monument Company in Perryville. They also worked with Michael Baston, owner of Baston Monuments in Elberton, Georgia, to appropriately cut and erect each panel in the monument’s atypical, apex design.

At Eternal Etchings, Kevin and his assistant, Mike Ross, completed 148 panels of names for the wall on black granite imported from India. They use a special, computerized technology that converts data and images into pixels. Their advanced laser machines then fire on those pixels at approximately 400 dots per inch, similar to a printer cartridge, moving from side to side in seconds.

Engraving for the largest Sister Wall panel took about 11 hours to complete; the shop logged more than 2,500 hours on the project altogether. Kevin spent additional time completing refinements before releasing each panel.

“My father was in the Navy, so working on this project was an extra-special honor and inspiration,” he says.

Forever sealed and now out-of-sight behind the granite slabs that honor the 58,318 killed in Vietnam are personal makeshift tributes (such as this one), handwritten notes from comrades, and love messages to those who lost their lives serving in the US armed forces.

A Promise Kept

The seeds of this project were sown in 1968, when Perryville native Jim Eddleman was serving in Vietnam. Caught in furious fighting during the Tet o˜ffensive, the young soldier ferried wounded comrades to the medevac copters, and he made a promise to himself: if he survived the war, he would find a way to honor his fellow veterans. Delivering on that vow more than four decades later, Jim and his wife, Charlene, provided a $2.5 million donation to launch the museum property, including a gift of 47 acres of Perry County farmland that had been in his family for three generations.

“I’m overwhelmed that this full-scale model of the Vietnam Wall is now completed for all Americans to honor and remember,” Jim says. “I hope my story will inspire others to support the memorial. God bless America.”

As other donors followed Jim’s lead, the emotional dream has become reality, explains executive director Nancy Guth. “We’re very proud to be completely privately funded, and to be here as a peaceful, tranquil environment for veterans,” she says.

Nancy commands the memorial’s new Welcome Center, which includes a reception area, meeting rooms, a gift shop, and an all-faiths chapel. Every Tuesday, the center hosts a 7 ŸAM coff˜ee hour for veterans. Future plans call for a museum, an events hall, statues and memorials to all service branches, a reflecting pool, walking paths through themed gardens, a scattering oak grove, a cemetery, and more.

An inaugural Veterans Day ceremony will take place November 11 at Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. The event off˜ers a way to remember those lost or serving in the military by securing a personalized Gold or Blue Star badge to be incorporated into the ceremony as service flags.

Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial is located just off˜ US 61 at 1172 Veterans Memorial Parkway. The grounds are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Welcome Center is open 8 ŸAM to 5 PM Monday through Friday. Admission and parking are free; donations are welcome. To request a military service star, make a donation, or get details about the upcoming Veterans Day ceremony, visit or call 573-547-2035.

Heroes Way

Communities Commemorate Fallen Soldiers

There are elaborate memorials throughout Washington, DC, and several state capitals for the many wars in which America’s heroes have fought, but Missourian Ross Gartman knows that families and friends of fallen soldiers don’t always get to visit commemorative locations to reflect and heal.

So in 2008, Ross launched Heroes Way, a Gordonville-based nonprofit organization to erect community-located highway signs as daily reminders of those who lost their lives serving their country. The project is very personal to Ross, whose friend and fellow service member— Staff‡ Sergeant Brad Skelton of Gordonville—died in an explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, on February 6, 2008.

Ross specifically assembled Heroes Way to honor those killed during more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan; Missouri legislators cooperated by passing a bill to allow interstate interchanges or state highway sections to be named in honor of those fallen service members.

Two memorial Heroes Way signs are placed near an honoree’s hometown, and Missouri Department of Transportation representatives collect a fee for erecting and maintaining them. Supporters work with local communities to raise necessary memorial funds, so associated families are not burdened by the $3,200 cost.

Currently, there are 37 Heroes Way signs across at least 24 Missouri communities, including Catawissa, East Prairie, Farmington, Festus, Florissant, Gainesville, Gordonville, Hermann, Hillsboro, Humphreys, Hurdland, Jackson, Jamestown, Kirksville, Macon, Monett, Pacific, Rolla, Springfield, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Sullivan, Webb City, and Winfield. To donate or to receive help with requesting Heroes Way memorial signs, visit or call 573-837-5088.


Soldiers Memorial Military Museum reopens

After a two-year, $30 million renovation funded solely through anonymous donors, the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in St. Louis reopens November 3.

Karen Goering, managing director of Missouri Historical Society administration and operations, served as project manager for renovating the art deco-style building. She calls it an amazing transformation, fueled by support, ideas, and newly donated wartime artifacts from hundreds of people to add to items collected in past decades. Missouri History Museum leaders assumed responsibility of the museum grounds in 2015 with the mission to reopen it before Veteran’s Day 2018.

“The four, monumental Walker Hancock sculptures representing courage, vision, loyalty, and sacrifice have been carefully cleaned by hand,” Karen says. “They were designed by a talented native son of St. Louis, and are majestic representations that depict essential qualities of American service members and their families.” Since the museum first opened on Memorial Day 1938, it’s been a hallowed place of remembrance. US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt personally dedicated the site for the Soldiers Memorial building on October 14, 1936, calling it “a symbol of devoted patriotism and unselfish service.”

The Court of Honor, a 1948 addition across from Soldiers Memorial, now boasts a new reflecting pool and fountains to represent the five US military branches, surrounded by red granite tablets proclaiming the names of St. Louis’s 2,753 fallen soldiers during World War II. Alongside is a new contemplative space and outdoor assembly area.

The museum’s main floor shares stories of regional soldiers from the American Revolution to current foreign conflicts. The lower level hosts temporary exhibits and stories from specific soldiers, complete with a recording studio for oral histories.

More than 10,000 artifacts are on display, including a large Emerson airplane turret, photos, personal letters, a bell from the 1906 cruiser USS St. Louis, tiny lapel pins, a Jeep, uniforms, overseas war souvenirs, documents, books, and tailhooks for plane landings on aircraft carriers. Shay Henrion, collections manager for the museum, is especially fond of new pieces she calls “trench art,” items made or modified by soldiers using whatever materials were available to them.

“The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum’s collections are a time capsule of relatively untouched donations, and a treasure trove of fascinating finds,” Shay says.

To make the museum more accessible, an elevator was added to its east wing. New LED lighting spotlights the cenotaph of the 1,075 St. Louisans who died in World War I.

Karen says the Gold Star Mother’s Mosaic on the ceiling above the cenotaph was restored as well. “Cracks were repaired and missing mosaic tiles were replaced, making the spectacular starburst pattern glow and creating a sacred space for remembering the sacrifice of St. Louisans in service to their nation,” she says.

The museum is located at 1315 Chestnut Street. For directions and hours of operation, check or phone 314-818-6780.