WATERLOO — Vietnam veterans and volunteers are keeping watch this weekend in memory of Black Hawk County residents killed in the Vietnam War or missing in action.
They’re keeping a 45-hour vigil — one hour for each county resident killed or missing during the war. The vigil began 3 p.m. Friday and runs through noon today, with brief opening and closing ceremonies.
No one needs to be a Vietnam veteran, or veteran of any kind, to participate or just stop and visit. “Just anyone to pay respects to those who served and the POW-MIAs,” as well as their families, said Black Hawk County Supervisor Craig White, a Vietnam veteran who lost two childhood friends during the war, Dave Hartogh and Dave Davis. Their names are on the memorial.
“We’ve got at least one person per shift” to staff the vigil, White said, and more in some cases. “We’ve got an assortment of people. We’ve got some guys that are still on active duty, a couple of guys that helped us out last year. And some new Vietnam veterans have stepped up to the plate” who haven’t previously participated. A surviving sister of an individual killed in the war also volunteered for the first time.
The vigil began when the county memorial was erected in the mid-1980s. After a hiatus of several years, White revived the vigil in 2015. Veterans of later conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan also have helped.
The county Vietnam memorial, a black monolith designed by Vietnam veteran R.J. Lundgren of Hudson, bears the names of all Black Hawk County residents killed in Vietnam and two more listed as missing in action, pilots Richard Ayers of Waterloo and Bill Whitford of Cedar Falls. It also includes a Medal of Honor winner, Robert Hibbs of Cedar Falls, a U.S. Army officer who was the first county resident to die in that war.
Paramount Park, in front of the Courier building at 100 E. Fourth St., was chosen as the location for the memorial because it is the old site of the Paramount Theatre, for which many local residents of the Vietnam generation hold fond memories.