The bronze soldier who stands alone in memoriam at Veterans Park in Arlington will soon have some company.
Groundbreaking could begin early this month on a new monument, a memorial with a very rare focus: the American and South Vietnamese servicemen who fought side by side against the North Vietnamese invasion.
The sculpture of two soldiers standing together in combat, the project of the Heroes of South Vietnam Memorial Foundation, will share space with the multiphased and ongoing veterans memorial project at the 103-acre Veterans Park, 3600 W. Arkansas Lane.
“We just want to remember those who sacrificed in the Vietnam War, both the Vietnamese and the Americans,” said Peter Dao, vice chairman of external affairs for the memorial foundation.
The new memorial will recognize the heavy toll of 58,000 American and more than 250,000 South Vietnamese troops killed from 1960 to 1975.
When the memorial is completed — the unveiling is expected this summer — the foundation will donate it to the city.
The City Council officially approved the design of the sculpture on Jan. 20, , satisfied that it would dovetail with the existing veterans memorial and its long-range master plan — a project founded and funded by Arlington Rotarians through their nonprofit Arlington Veterans Park Foundation.
The spearheading group, Arlington Great Southwest Rotary Club, and members of the six other Rotary Clubs in the city have praised the final concept plans, park foundation President Albert C. Ross said.
“I think it’s going to be a knockout monument,” he said.
Work on the sculpture got underway in mid-2012, when the foundation commissioned Dallas-based sculptor Mark Byrd for the project.
The 8-foot-tall sculpture depicts two military servicemen, one American and one South Vietnamese, shoulder to shoulder in combat. The Vietnamese soldier is a variation of a well-known memorial statue, known as Thuong Tiec, that stood at the entrance of the Republic of Vietnam National Military Cemetery until 1975, when it was destroyed by the conquering North Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese-American monument will be unique in North Texas, Byrd said.
“Houston has had one for quite a few years,” he said. Orange County, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Florida are among the few other U.S. sites, and Australia has several because of its large Vietnamese population, he added.
The two figures crafted by Byrd have been cut into sections for the bronzing process, which is now underway. The reassembled final product will weigh 1,500 to 2,000 pounds, not including its 4-foot-tall granite base, Byrd said.
“We are very happy with the sculpture by Mark,” Dao said. “He put his soul and his mind and heart into it.”
Sculpting military images is a natural passion for Byrd, who served six years in the Marines, including a year piloting helicopter gunships in the Vietnam War. Since 9-11, he said, his work has been almost exclusively “commemorative and memorial sculptures.”
Byrd, 70, said he’s pleased to be on the Arlington project, but he’s not sure who should be thanking whom.
“As an American, I feel that America made promises to the Vietnamese people … and at a certain point we backed out and left,” he said. “I think we as Americans should be doing something to commemorate the Vietnamese for their noble fight for freedom.”
The Heroes of South Vietnam foundation, which was created in 2012 for purpose of establishing the memorial, has raised about $300,000. A little more than half of that is Byrd’s commission.
In the early going, foundation members wanted to build the memorial on the east side of town, where the Vietnamese community is especially concentrated. Arlington has the second-largest Vietnamese population in the state — 12,600 residents, according to the 2010 Census — behind Houston.
“But after several conversations, it was decided it was best to have it with the rest of the war memorial, to have it all in one location,” said De’Onna Garner, city parks planning manager.
Byrd said the heroes foundation members had many ideas for the monument, and he incorporated as many as he could. But in the end, he infused the plans with his concepts and experience.
“It’s largely my idea,” he said. “You don’t want to do something that you wouldn’t be proud of. And I’m very proud of this.”
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641