Southfield considers monument to honor Vietnam vets

By: Jennie Miller | Southfield Sun | Published September 28, 2011

SOUTHFIELD — It might be long overdue, as many city officials have said, but they won’t be hasty when adding a monument at City Hall to honor veterans of the Vietnam War.

Southfield City Council members approved the concept of a monument during a Sept. 12 meeting, but debated whether to go forward and approve the entire project without finalized plans.

Tyrone Chatman of the Michigan Veterans Foundation and the first president of the Southfield Veterans Commission, proposed the monument, to be erected with donated funds, on City Hall property. The monument would not be a memorial for fallen soldiers, but rather one to honor those who fought and returned home to a “less than heroes’ welcome,” Chatman said.

“We fought as bravely as any of our predecessors had,” Chatman said. “We never received an official welcoming home. Many of us came home, took our uniforms off and attempted to blend in with society. I was called names, denied employment. … I’m proud of my service in Vietnam and I don’t mind telling people that. There’s no greater love for country than to be willing to die for it. These individuals are America’s finest.”

Councilman Sidney Lantz, who was responsible for creating the Veterans Memorial Garden outside City Hall, where the proposed monument would stand, pushed for an immediate approval to get the ball rolling.

But others insisted they needed to see more details first.

“I’m not taking away from the need, but you have to have some idea of the scope of this,” said City Councilman Don Fracassi. “Not to take away from the individuals who served, but there’s no design. There’s no location. … I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but we’re talking about a public entity here. (We need to) make sure that you protect the integrity of the building and what’s on it and how it’s placed.”

Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence agreed, and pointed out that those who wanted to wait weren’t necessarily opposed to the project.

“(I’m) in support of it, but we need to approve it so it’s something we are proud of,” Lawrence said. “We are all on the same page. This is about honoring our veterans who served in Vietnam, and it’s something that we should be thoughtful of and use the proper process.”

While the details were contested, it was clear at the meeting that city officials were in favor of recognizing the heroes as such.

“Of all the wars we’ve fought, this was the only one where the men came back and were disgraced,” said City Councilwoman Joan Seymour. “We confused the soldiers who fought in Vietnam with the unpopularity of the war, and that was inappropriate. … I think (this is) the right thing to do and I think it’s high time.”

“We need to do it,” said City Councilwoman Janna Garrison. “Our Vietnam veterans did not get a hero’s welcome. It is never too late to correct something or at least try to correct it, and we need to do that with our Vietnam veterans.”