Vietnam Veterans to Build Memorial at Camp Pendleton

A group of Vietnam veterans are working on building a memorial at Camp Pendleton for 5th Marines who served in Vietnam.

The proposed Vietnam War Memorial Monument honors the 2,706 Marines, sailors, corpsmen and a chaplain killed in the Vietnam War serving with the 5th Marine Regiment. Their names will be etched in stone on six panels surrounding a 14-foot-tall black granite spire. The fallen hero spire rests on a pedestal that will detail the 5th Marines combat chronology.

The memorial is set to be installed in the memorial garden at Camp San Mateo on the northern end of the base, home of the "Fighting Fifth" Regiment, where there are other memorials, but not one for Vietnam veterans.

The veterans are launching a capital campaign this month to raise money to complete the estimated $400,000 project.

The memorial is to be constructed by Rock of Ages Corp., based in Graniteville, Vt., the company that built the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"We saw memorials in the Camp San Mateo Memorial Garden for other wars, but not for Vietnam, so we started work on the project," said Steve Colwell, who is spearheading the effort to honor his fallen comrades.

The 5th Marines, known as the most highly decorated regiment in the Marine Corps, deployed to the Republic of Vietnam in March 1966. They fought for five years at Rung Sat, Chu Lai, Phu Loc, Hue, Que Son Valley, An Hoa, Tam K and Da Nang, until April 1971.

Colwell, a Carlsbad resident, served as an infantry officer with Delta Company 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment and was severely wounded on Dec 16, 1967.

The project's East Coast liaison is Colwell's lifelong Marine comrade Nick Warr, who fought in Vietnam as an infantry officer with Charlie Company in the 5th Marines from November 1967 to December 1968. Warr is the author of two Vietnam War books, "Phase Line Green; The Battle for Hue, 1968" and Charlie One Five; A Marine Company's Vietnam War."

The project team includes members of the 5th Marine Regiment, the 1st Marine Division Association, the 1/5 Vietnam Veterans Association and the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group, a local nonprofit acting as project fiduciary managing donations.

For two years the group of veterans studied records to find the names of the several thousand Marines, Sailors and Navy Corpsmen who were killed in Vietnam fighting with the 5th Marines. Brian Coty, a board member of the Dana Point Support Group, worked for over a year with the Coffelt Vietnam Casualty Database in an effort to identify every fallen hero who should be included in the memorial.

"This is a long overdue acknowledgment of their sacrifice," said Terry Rifkin, president of the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group. "The memorial means a lot to those left behind."

Dedication of the memorial is planned for Memorial Day 2017.

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