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Plans grow for vets plaque

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:56 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:56 a.m.

Along with plans to replace the Vietnam veterans plaque that was recently stolen from Walnut Park, it now appears the park itself could get a makeover.

If all goes according to plan, the 1.5-acre park just south of downtown Petaluma could soon have some or all of the following: a lighted flagpole; red, white and blue landscaping at the base of the gazebo; a bench honoring Petaluma veteran Ron Flagg; new walkways; and, of course, a new, larger veterans memorial.

The original bronze plaque, which sat for decades at the base of the gazebo in Walnut Park commemorating 15 Petaluman veterans who died while fighting in the Vietnam War, went missing around Christmas time and is presumed to have been stolen for the value of its metal.

Hopes are slim that the stolen plaque will be recovered, and so on Jan. 17, a group of about 30 people convened at the Petaluma Historical Museum to discuss how it can best be replaced. The group was made mostly of local veterans, though they were joined by four of the men responsible for erecting the original plaque, representatives of the Petaluma Historical Museum, city staff and members of local service clubs.

The coalition has more than $10,000 to work with, thanks to donations that have poured in from the Petaluma firefighters' union, local businesses and veterans.

The general consensus seems to be that the plaque should remain in Walnut Park, which was a special meeting place for the men who erected the original in honor of fallen friends as the Vietnam War was winding down. Some suggested that the plaque should be bigger, or even etched in granite. Many expressed an interest in an illuminated flag pole that would hold an American flag as well as a flag commemorating soldiers who went missing in action. Other suggestions included expanding the scope of the plaque to honor Vietnam veterans who have died since the war ended and perhaps honoring veterans of other wars as well.

Interested parties will meet again today to discuss specifics. Any proposed changes to the park will ultimately have to come before the Recreation, Music and Parks Commission for approval, said Ron DeNicola, parks manager for the City of Petaluma, who has been working with the various stakeholders on plans for the park.

At the same time, Petaluma Valley Rotary is planning a rehabilitation of the area surrounding the plaque. The club's members became familiar with the plaque when they cleaned it last October before dedicating a nearby site as the future location of a bench honoring club member Ron Flagg, a highly decorated veteran and local supporter of youth and veterans who died last year.

Led by club member Maureen Frances, the group plans to beautify the area around the bench, which Frances hopes can be installed this spring.

The group hopes to get approval to replace the current shrubs that ring the gazebo with plants that flower in red, white and blue — roses, white cistus and lavender. The group may also erect a pole with the word “peace” inscribed in six different languages.

In talking with the city about the changes, Frances learned that the pathways in Walnut Park are crumbling, making it difficult for residents in wheelchairs or walkers to traverse the park. Frances also spearheads a coalition of seven service groups called the Petaluma Service Alliance. That coalition is planning to work with the city and do what it can to replace the pavement, possibly with help from volunteers with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It's almost like we're going to be adopting the park, doing ongoing landscaping,” Frances mused. “It's a bad thing that happened, but it's almost like it reversed itself.”

“It's like the Veterans Day Parade,” commented veteran Steve Kemmerle, who organizes that huge event each year and has personally donated money for the new plaque. “For whatever reason, it's just multiplied. The patriotism in this area is just amazing.”

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@arguscourier.com.)

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