They came together on an unseasonably sunny, warm November day in Wyandotte to remember.
The project began more than a year ago. That’s when several veterans, residents and city leaders decided a Vietnam veterans memorial was long overdue in the city.
Constructing a monument made of black granite and engraved with the names of those Wyandotte residents who had lost their lives in the Vietnam War was going to be no easy task in these tough economic times.
“We really had to ask the community," committee member Edward Gorecki said. “We had canisters up in many businesses and held several fundraisers. And, just as we had hoped, the great people of Wyandotte answered our call.”
Wyandotters came through with flying colors, raising more than $52,000 for the construction of the Wyandotte Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
On Sunday, Veterans Day, all their efforts came to fruition and the community was on hand as the memorial was unveiled at its permanent location at the corner of Van Alstyne and Superior.
“We want to thank the committee members, the elected officials and everyone who contributed or participated in helping us to honor these soldiers,” said Wyandotte Mayor Joseph Peterson, a Vietnam veteran. “This monument faces our beautiful river and looks out over the water which is appropriate since we honor those who lost their lives overseas.”
All the local veterans groups were represented at the ceremony, along with the families of the 12 soldiers whose names are imprinted on the new memorial. (Two additional names were added to the original 10 announced earlier in the year.)
The ceremony included several speakers including the mayor, who served as master of ceremonies, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-15th District), state Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit), Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and members of the veterans memorial committee.
“This has been a long time coming,” Peterson said. “Today we are happy our brothers have come home to rest in peace knowing that we honor them and are a grateful community for their supreme sacrifice.”
Dingell, also a veteran, addressed the crowd, congratulating everyone who played a part in making the monument possible.
“We recognize these veterans so all may know they are appreciated for their sacrifices, for their suffering and for what they did for their country,” he said. “This is a day that is far greater than just dedicating this wonderful monument. This is a day when we are again bringing our people together and telling our veterans how important they are. Congratulations to all of you and thanks to the committee members for what you have done in honoring our comrades who served this country in one of its most difficult and thankless wars.”
After many inspiring speeches, the solemn moments came.
“Today our community honors those Wyandotte residents who were not able to come back home from the war,” Peterson said. “At this time I would like to bring forward our co-chairman Ken Holezki, who to me has the most important part. ... What he is going to do will probably take three minutes but stick in your minds and probably be there for the rest of your life.”
The audience fell quiet when Holzecki read aloud each name engraved on the monument, followed by the ringing of the bell once for each fallen soldier:
- Richard Hollingsworth
- Christopher Johnson
- Patrick Callahan
- Cecil Hobbs
- Thomas Raubolt
- Robert Jenkins
- Billy Taylor
- George Cunningham
- Henry Baldwin
- Danny Yelley
- George Tear
- John Lafler
The playing of Taps was completed by buglers Paul Showalter and Jeff Thomas. Thomas also played Amazing Grace.
A 21-gun salute was fired in honor of those lives lost. The Wyandotte Marching Chiefs from Roosevelt High School provided patriotic music
The Rev. Walter Ptak of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church gave the invocation and Chaplin Brian Martin concluded the ceremony with the closing prayer.
Jamie Yelley, the niece of Danny Yelley, whose name is one of those on the memorial, came with her family to the dedication. She brought her three young children with her.
“I wanted them to be a part of this ceremony today,” she said.
Noah Yelley, Danny’s brother, also was in attendance.
“We will always miss him,” said Yelley, a lifelong resident of Wyandotte. “This is a wonderful tribute to all of them. We will never forget and now other generations will know, too.”
The committee members responsible for the memorial project include Gorecki, Holezki, Peterson, Richard "Chooch" Dziendziel, Tom Faryniarz, Don Howard, John Kowalczik, Dale LaBeau, Robert Mayrand, Leonard Milewski, David Polczynski, Mark Ratynski, Brian Smith, Michael Smith, Albert Starzec, Jeffrey Torno and Tom Woodruff.
The engraved black granite monument displays the names of the Wyandotte residents who gave the supreme sacrifice, a map of Vietnam, the seals of the armed forces, a drawing of soldiers and a poem titled “Don’t Cry for Me.” The memorial area also includes a pathway of brick pavers and granite sitting benches.
Steven Seward, an Albion College student who interned with the city over the summer, wrote the poem after being unable to find one he felt properly conveyed the message behind Wyandotte's monument.
"I began to scratch down ideas to try and create something that I believed could embody the soul and spirit that the committee was trying to instill into this monument," he said. "I am extremely proud and honored to be a part of something that means this much to so many."
The unveiling of the memorial came during the nation's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, which officially began on Memorial Day this year when President Barack Obama led a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. At that time, he set forth a proclamation marking May 28, 2012, through November 11, 2025, as the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.
The brick pavers at the Wyandotte memorial are still available for engraving for those who wish to donate. Anyone interested in purchasing a paver for personal engraving can call 734-324-4540 or access the forms at www.wyandotte.net.