A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.” — George William Curtis

This is the quote listed before experience number 89 on the Kentucky Bucket List — a book of 100 unique Kentucky experiences written by Michael Crisp.

On Sunday, Dec. 5, I completed this adventure by paying my respects at the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Constructed in 1988 to overlook the state Capitol in Frankfort, the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors 1,108 Kentucky Veterans who served this nation during the Vietnam War, according to the monument's website. Each Veterans’ name is precisely engraved on the blue-gray granite so the shadow of the sundial pointer touches their name on the anniversary of their death. Thus, each individual is honored with a personal tribute.

According to information at the site, approximately 125,000 of Kentucky's sons and daughters served in the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam era. The history of the memorial begins with the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., a non-profit organization, founded by Ronald D. Ray, a Marine veteran of Vietnam, and other concerned veterans, who were first endorsed by by Governor Martha Layne Collins. In March of 1984, the Kentucky General Assembly encouraged the memorial fund to "design and raise the necessary funds for a monument to those Kentuckians who fought and died in Vietnam."

Funds for the monument's construction were provided through private donations from businesses, corporate and individual sources. The site overlooking the state Capitol was donated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1987 and upon completion, ownership of the memorial was transferred to the state with perpetual maintenance provided by the fund.

The design for the memorial was chosen in a national competition which required each entrant submit drawings and a scale model. The design criteria state "The monument should be distinctive yet dignified. It should not seek to imitate other monuments, yet it should evoke an emotional remembrance while being aesthetically authentic as a work of art. The monument should display the names of all Kentuckians who perished in the conflict... and who are still unaccounted for."

The design submitted by Kentucky architect Helm Roberts was selected unanimously. His design was that of a sundial whose shadow points to and touches the name of each Kentuckian killed in service on the anniversary of his death.

According to the site's history, the plaza of the memorial contains the names of 1,069 dead and missing in actions or prisoners of the Vietnam work at the time of dedication. Each hour line of the sundial represents a year of American service during the war; thus, each sector between the walkways includes one year of service in Vietnam. The length of the shadow of the "gnomon" varies with the season of the year, with the longest shadows at the winter solstice and the shortest on the summer solstice. Each name is also located so that the tip of the gnomon shadow touches the name on the death date, honoring reaching with a personal memorial day for their loved ones.

The "gnomon," or pointer stands 14.62 feet above the surface of the plaza and is 24.27 feet long. The angle of the gnomon is equal to the latitude from horizontal and points to the true North Pole and Polaris, the North Star. The gnomon was cut from a single piece of 3/16" thick stainless steel and was fabricated in Lexington. It is filled with concrete and weighs over 5,000 pounds. This is one of the largest granite memorials in the country, weighing more than 215 tons. All granite from the memorial was cut from the "Pyramid Blue" quarry located in Elberton Georgia. The face of each piece was honed to remove saw marks and finished with a sandblasted surface to provide the lightest possible color to contrast with the gnomon shadow.

A groundbreaking ceremony and dedication was hosted on November 7, 1981. The remaining work for the memorial was accomplished during the summer of 1988. The Board of Directors dedicated the Memorial on November 11, 1988, and Governor Wallace G. Wilkinson presided over the official ceremony on November 12, 988.

My experience

I honestly don't have any expectations for each different bucket list item any longer. Sometimes I think I am going to get something out of it and leave with an entirely different perspective. Obviously, some experiences are more carefree, easy and fun than others which can be more serious and reflective. This was one of those cases.

I arrived on Sunday after a solo drive to Frankfort listening to some podcasts. It was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed the ride. I arrived to the site and was the only one around which is nice when you are taking a bunch of photos of things and yourself at the location. I took the time to look over the information which was outside of the plaza and very extensive. The information gave quite a bit of detail about the Kentucky involvement in the Vietnam War, the Vietnam War itself, and the design and construction of the monument.

If you have never seen it, the Veterans Memorial is one of the most intricate and in-depth designs I have ever seen. It is truly a sight to see and visit for reflection. To be honest, it took me a while to grasp just how it worked and how you would see the names each time. I strongly suggest anyone see the memorial for themselves, and take whoever is willing to go. Not only is the gnomon itself very striking, as well as the plaza, but the entirety of the monument overlooking the Capitol and city of Frankfort was truly breathtaking.

Honor and remember the fallen by visiting the memorial that overlooks the state Capitol. The memorial is open every day of the year and holds special ceremonies on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, POW/MIA Recognition Day, and Veterans Day. Since opening in November 1988, it has become one of the most visited landmarks in the commonwealth. The site is open to the public seven days a week, free of cost.

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