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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Battle lines being drawn over idea to move Vietnam memorial from Riverfront Park

The Inland Northwest Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located in Riverfront Park, was dedicated November 10, 1985. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

A statue of a Vietnam veteran holding a letter from home has sat in Riverfront Park for 33 years. Etched on his face is a longing look as he gazes down a meadow and over the Spokane River.

He might not have that view for much longer.

A group of veterans is fueling a move by city and county officials to consider moving the Inland Northwest Vietnam Veterans Memorial because they want it to be easier to find. The proposed relocation likely would move the statue sometime next summer to the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, consolidating it near other war memorials.

Mayor David Condon said the relocation depends on if enough interest from veterans exists to move the memorial, but “the key is that it’s held in high esteem and is refurbished.”

“It’s in a very peaceful location, although it’s not readily accessible,” he said.

The idea has upset some community members like Gary Henderson, who raised money to have the Vietnam memorial installed in 1985. Before that, Henderson said he trucked the statue to community events with a plastic donation box to raise money for it.

It was a cold day on Nov. 10, 1985, when the statue was dedicated in Riverfront Park. A B-52 flew over a crowd of roughly 1,000 as they stood on a blanket of snow. At the time, veterans chose the spot because it was on the highest ground of a knoll, Henderson said.

“It’s in a spot that’s one of a kind in this world,” Henderson said.

Another group of people remain undecided about the move, including the sculpture’s creator, Deborah Copenhaver-Fellows, and Wes Anderson, who visits the memorial every year to clean the gunk off of it with a soapy sponge.

“I am struggling with the decision,” said Anderson, who served in the Vietnam War as a Marine from 1966 to 1968. Anderson is now the post chaplain of the Spokane chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and he said he’d still clean the monument if it was moved.

The idea is still in early stages of talks and nothing will be decided until the Spokane Park Board and Joint Arts Committee, a city government group, vote on the move. But first, they are relying on the veterans who approached them months ago with the idea. One of the veterans supporting the move is state Rep. Matt Shea’s father, Mike.

“I do not appreciate people who were not in combat saying, ‘We’re not going to move that,’ ” he said. “I want it moved up there so it gets prominence with all the other ones and not treated as a second-hand monument.”

Condon, who’s a veteran, and members of the Park Board have been in talks with the group of veterans to take input on the decision, which should be made this fall, said Leroy Eadie, Parks & Recreation director.

How to fund a move hasn’t been determined yet, but the group of veterans pushing for its relocation has applied for grants from the Washington Department of Affairs and the Home Depot Foundation, said Cathrene Nichols, administrator of the Regional Veterans Services Office in Spokane County.

“I’m certain that we’re going to have funding. That’s the least of our concern.” Nichols said, although she wasn’t sure how much it would cost.

But it could be expensive, according to some of the people involved with its installation. Copenhaver-Fellows said the costs to move it would be “exorbitant” because the base would have to be cut up, moved and recast.

Retired Riverfront Park director Hal McGlathery is against the move partly because it will require “massive tree removal” among surrounding trees. He said it will also be risky to move the delicate marble slabs that lay on top of the concrete base and that one of the slabs is cracked, further complicating the move.

Eadie said options for a possible new location are being scouted now, but it will be somewhere near the Veterans Memorial Arena, west of where other war monuments sit.

Copenhaver-Fellows, the sculptor, said the decision should be left to Vietnam veterans.

“Art is being so scrutinized in the arena of politically correct,” said Copenhaver-Fellows, who lives in Sonoita, Arizona. “It’s a very unpopular arena that you’re getting into by moving the memorial. The whole memorial is for the respect of my generation, and I don’t know if that would be respect.”