Hon­or­ing Our Vet­er­ans

Cape Coral Living - - Radar - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT

Bill Akins tears up talk­ing about an armed ser­vices me­mo­rial he helped fund in Punta Gorda—not be­cause of the thou­sands of small cash do­na­tions or the years of work that went into fi­nal as­sem­bly of the gran­ite struc­ture, but rather be­cause the names of his friends and for­mer com­rades are etched into the mon­u­ment of those miss­ing or killed in Viet­nam. The South­west Florida Viet­nam Me­mo­rial Wall in Laish­ley Park is to be of­fi­cially ded­i­cated on Nov. 5. “Vet­er­ans and veteran groups are a brother­hood,” says Akins, who served in Viet­nam as a for­ward ob­server for the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1972. “Have I lost friends? More than I care to count. [The Wall] to me is very emo­tional, and those who didn’t serve may not un­der­stand that.” South­west Florida lost some 80 ser­vice mem­bers in Viet­nam dur­ing the war, which was con­ducted over nearly 20 years through 1975. It’s no ac­ci­dent that the Punta Gorda wall is sim­i­lar to the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which most re­fer to sim­ply as The Wall. The Char­lotte County me­mo­rial is a half-scale ver­sion of the Wash­ing­ton wall, yet with each sol­dier, air­man and sailor who died or was miss­ing etched into 100 gran­ite pan­els of more than 700 pounds each. Sani­bel glass artist Lucas Cen­tury, in fact, de­vel­oped an etch­ing tech­nique used to in­scribe the names in the black gran­ite slabs in Wash­ing­ton that to­tal about 500 feet and were com­pleted in 1982. But as much as the Char­lotte County me­mo­rial means to vet­er­ans, es­pe­cially on Nov. 11 (Vet­er­ans Day), it is the $5 and $10 do­na­tions that ul­ti­mately added up to $650,000 that make it mean even more, Akins says. The non­profit formed to fund the pro­ject in the be­gin­ning imag­ined rais­ing $350,000, he says, stunned that nearly twice that in do­na­tions and spon­sor­ships ar­rived. “We had a ton of small do­na­tions,” he says. “Some 70 per­cent [were] less than $200. We were all kind of sur­prised.” (Akins has since left the board of the non­profit group, fol­low­ing a dis­pute over some con­tro­ver­sial re­marks he made.) At the for­mal ded­i­ca­tion, the Punta Gorda me­mo­rial, along

Gran­ite wall helps heal, Char­lotte County mon­u­ment ded­i­ca­tion in Novem­ber

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