The caretaker of the Vietnam War Memorial in Montrose is recognized for 30 years of service.
By Mary O’KEEFE
Say “Vietnam” and, depending on whom you are speaking to, you will get some type of emotional reaction. Often called an “unpopular war” (although war is never actually “popular”), Americans were in Vietnam for decades prior to the draft and the protests. In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy increased the United States military support in the region. After President Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson continued the military effort.
Every night in the 1960s and 1970s it seemed the news was of battles in Vietnam and protests at home. It was not like the WWII era of honoring soldiers as they came home; those returning from Vietnam were greeted by family but they often were shunned by the public. In Montrose, however, that was not the case. The community had come together to remember and respect the soldiers who had paid the ultimate price during Vietnam.
On Friday, the Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce and the Montrose Shopping Park Association recognized Bill Dodson, a WWII veteran who had taken over the care of the memorial located at Honolulu Avenue and Ocean View Boulevard for about 30 years.
“This is a brief history for those who may not know about the Vietnam [War Memorial]. It was built in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War and it was Don Carpenter, the second- generation owner of the Ledger newspaper, who spearheaded [the memorial construction],” said Melinda Clarke, executive director of Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce, during the recognition.
Carpenter and Frank Roberts, known as Mr. Montrose, worked on the memorial and, through the Ledger newspaper, asked the community for donations.
“The response was so great they actually had to tell people to stop donating,” Clarke said.
Carpenter had given the first $1,000; the total needed was $1,800. The memorial was built and on June 14, 1968, Flag Day, General Phillip J. Donovan, U.S. Air Force Reserves, officiated at the dedication as U.S. Air Force jets flew overhead. At the time, the names of seven servicemen were on the memorial.
“Today there are 24 men’s names,” Clarke said. “This was the first memorial in the [country] that honored the fallen soldiers of Vietnam.”
The memorial was cared for by Frank Roberts until the 1970s when its care was turned over to Dodson, a good friend of Roberts.
Pat Longo, president of the Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber, said they were recognizing Dodson for his many years of dedication.
“He was here raking the leaves and replacing the flag and finished the plaques on the wall and he doesn’t want any recognition for this,” Longo said.
But the chamber and MSPA felt differently. On the east side of the wall a pedestal was erected in the 1980s after Carpenter’s death. His name, then later Roberts’ name, was added; on Friday Dodson’s name was placed on the pedestal.
Dodson had served four years in the Navy during WWII in the Pacific. Both of his sons had served in Vietnam. At the time he began the maintenance of the memorial, in the late 1970s, he was a firefighter with Glendale Fire Dept. The flag for the memorial was kept at the fire station back then. The GPD would raise the flag in the morning.
“I do appreciate the recognition,” said Dodson. “The [MSPA] and chamber are responsible for this memorial … without them we would not be able to maintain the [memorial].”
For his part, he simply felt that something needed to be done to recognize the sacrifice the men had made for their country.
“These gentlemen here, on the wall, never got a chance to come home and get any kind of respect or award for their service,” he said. “The least we could do is keep this memorial in respect and dedication for what they did for us and our country.”