Commemorates Chatham County residents killed in the Vietnam War, and the veterans of that war
Location Emmet Park
Artists Matthew Dixon and collaborators
Savannah’s Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial commemorates the 106 members of the armed forces from Chatham County killed or presumed killed during the Vietnam War, and the 25,000 other veterans of that conflict from coastal Georgia.
The monument is located in the center of Emmet Park, the easternmost part of the stretch of small parks that runs along the north side of Bay Street. It was dedicated on June 29 1991, at that time the only monument in Savannah erected to living individuals as well as to the dead.
The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is the site of annual candelit memorial ceremonies, usually held on the Sunday evening prior to Memorial Day. Another local memorial to veterans of the Vietnam War can be visited in the Memorial Garden of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
The centerpiece of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is a large, fenced reflecting pool, with steps leading down into the basin within which is set a large mass of white Georgia marble (in fact three separate blocks, with a combined weight of 91 tons) shaped to resemble the outline and topography of Vietnam.
Atop the marble block is a bronze sculpture representing the battlefield marker for a grave: a pair of combat boots and an M16 rifle, its muzzle pointing downwards, with a helmet balanced on the stock.
Around the borders of reflecting pool are five star points in marble, representing the five branches of the military and inscribed with their insignia. Set into the brickwork around the monument are hundreds of memorial bricks purchased by local residents. Nearby is a flagpole flying the US flag and the National League of Families POW/MIA flag.
On a large pedestal next to the pool are the names of the 106 Chatham County residents who lost their lives fighting the Vietnam War.
The first attempt to erect a memorial to local veterans of the Vietnam War came in 1967 (the conflict then still ongoing). The Leggett Marble and Granite Company and members of the Southside Junior Chamber wanted a monument to commemorate the sacrifice of combatants forced to participate in what was considered an un-winnable war.
Later impetus for the monument came from the Vietnam Memorial Committee, formed by a local veteran and the mother of a man killed in the war. The committee held its first meeting in fall of 1987. Mayor John Rousakis voiced his support for the erection of a monument to local Vietnam veterans, and council, unusually, created its own committee to work toward that goal.
Initially, a spot in Daffin Park was proposed for the new monument. The Park and Tree Commission then suggested locating the new memorial on the site of one of the two dummy forts in Forsyth Park (today occupied by the Fragrant Garden and the Visitors Center).
Later, city officials changed their minds again, and the Park and Tree Commission, the Memorial Committee and Savannah’s Historic Sites and Monuments Commission agreed that Emmet Park would be the most fitting location for the Vietnam memorial.
The original plans for the monument were selected by a design contest (with a $1500 prize), won by Savannah resident Matthew Dixon. The initial design produced by Dixon was taller and wider than the present monument, with a much larger, 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture and no reflecting pool, but substantial changes were requested once the Emmet Park site had been decided upon.
At the time, a plan was underway for the redevelopment of Emmet Park and the Bay Street Strand.
The site chosen for the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Emmet Park was previously occupied by the Three Savannahs Memorial Fountain, erected in 1962 by the Savannah branch of the Propeller Club (using donations collected nation-wide from 131 branches of the Propeller Club) in commemoration of the three ships named for the city of Savannah.
City officials felt that the fountain monument was too high to be in harmony with the landscape of East Bay Street and the riverfront, and preferred to replace it with a reflecting pool, now to be supplied by the new monument.
The Propeller Club agreed to the removal of the fountain to make way for the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial on the condition that the plaques and anchors were displayed elsewhere. It was dismantled in 1989.
Dixon’s designs were modified in collaboration with local architecture firm Gilpin & Bazemore to include a reflecting pool, along with the desired changes to the overall mass of the monument.
The marble work was designed and installed by Oglethorpe Marble & Granite Company of Savannah. They also provided the catalogue-ordered bronze sculpture. The marble was cut and supplied by the Georgia Marble Company. Jim Hudson, of Boones Mill, VA, shaped the centerpiece of the monument to represent the mountainous terrain of Vietnam.
The new Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial was reckoned at the time to be the most expensive monument ever erected in Savannah. Half of its estimated $200,000-$250,000 cost was funded by private donations from local organizations, businesses and individuals. The other half was raised through the sale of $50 memorial bricks, used to pave the Remembrance Walk around the monument.
After its installation at the Emmet Park site, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial was dedicated on June 29 1991.
Dorothy H Stewart, 1993, The monuments and fountains of Savannah: a report on an internship for the Savannah Park and Tree Department