On this day in 2008, hundreds gathered at Patriot’s Park in Coventry, Connecticut to attend the unveiling of the first monument to honor all 612 Connecticans who lost their lives during the Vietnam War.
The movement to establish the handsome, black-granite monument began as part of a classroom project undertaken by students at Coventry’s Captain Nathan Hale Middle School in 2001. Inspired by their teacher Thomas Dzicek, who was an active service member during the war but was never deployed to Vietnam, the students immersed themselves in primary-source research to create a comprehensive list and short biographies of all the Connecticut men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam conflict. After a year and half, the of biographies were printed as a limited-run book simply titled “612.”
Coventry resident Jean Risley, whose brother died while serving in Vietnam, was so moved by the students’ project that she established the Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee in 2006 to raise funds for a permanent monument. The $40,000 required to build Connecticut’s first comprehensive Vietnam Memorial was raised in short order, and the town of Coventry donated a plot for the monument in the town’s popular Patriots Park. Groundbreaking for the Memorial took place in 2007, and on May 17, 2008, it was formally dedicated amid a crowd of nearly 500 people.
Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial organization website
Gail Braccidiferro, “For Students, War Projects Truly Hit Home,” New York Times