DETROIT - Today, it's just a dreary acre of earth on Woodward Avenue at Temple, on the edge of downtown, where cars are parked during ball games, and you might not want to be late at night.
But a bunch of guys who put their lives on the line for their country have a dream, and a plan. They see it as a beautiful park that, a few Memorial Days from now, will be a fitting place to honor the veterans of all America's wars.
They've carefully gotten cost estimates, and have had an architect draw up plans.
They would have benches and trees and a central plaza, and pylons and flagpoles commemorating all America's wars. Ivy-covered screens would hide some of the surrounding blight, and there would be a low stone wall with gently running water. The immortal words of the Gettysburg Address would be on a stainless steel plaque.
In fact, the park would be just a long walk from Campus Martius, where companies of soldiers were formed and marched off to the Civil War, nearly 150 years ago.
They would call it Arsenal of Democracy Park.
"During World War II, more material was produced and shipped out of Detroit than anyplace else in the country," says Paul Palazollo, a veteran of the Tet offensive and a military history buff.
"That should never be forgotten."
These guys know what it is like to be forgotten. Thirty years ago, eight Vietnam veterans got together at Wayne State University. They'd fought in America's longest war, and come home to indifference or actual contempt.
Many, like Paul, had a hard time adjusting to civilian life. They knew that many of their fellow vets were in worse shape than they were.
So they raised money. They bought an old restaurant building on Woodward Avenue, Detroit's once-proud main drag, and lovingly renovated it into headquarters for Vietnam Veterans of America, Detroit Chapter Nine.
Mr. Palazollo, in 'Nam from '67 to '69, wielded a baseball bat and with some of his buddies chased off the junkies, pimps, and hookers.
Mike Sand, an Air Force vet who is now an industrial arts teacher in Fraser, edited the newsletter, The Aftermath.
They soon were the biggest Vietnam vets chapter in the nation. But they weren't just interested in their war.
"We have a slogan, which means a lot to me," Mr. Palazollo told me the other night. "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another."
They remembered that they weren't welcomed with open arms by veterans of World War II and Korea.
Now, in middle age, they saw new veterans coming back, from Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They opened their doors and hearts to them and served as a veterans' service center in the heart of the city.
But they also had a dream of transforming the abandoned acre of earth next to their building into a park for all veterans, and for everyone else to enjoy and learn what sacrifices had been made for them.
They know the city has no money.
They plan to raise it all themselves, much as they did when they got a monument to Michigan's Vietnam veterans built in Lansing. All they need is permission from the city, which technically owns the land. They went to Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey, who was enthusiastic.
They waited for approval from the economic development department. And waited and waited. But she died, and then one day a private firm was given permission to park cars on the lot the veterans had tended and cared for.
Now Detroit has a new mayor, businessman Dave Bing, and the veterans and are hopeful again.
For the last quarter century, they have led the annual Thanksgiving parade, provided food, warmth, and refreshments for the marchers, and have fed the nearby homeless, an appalling number of whom are veterans themselves.
They have a tax-approved, non-profit 501(c)3 corporation: Arsenal of Democracy Veterans Memorial Park of Detroit Inc., 76 East Forest, Detroit, 48201. Contributions are fully deductible.
Michigan's Vietnam vets know that 2,654 of their buddies never came back, and that tens of thousands of Michiganders lost their lives in other wars.
They believe they all deserve to be remembered. The aging veterans of America's saddest war have been getting it done against long odds all their lives.
Today, in a city overflowing with vacant lots, they want only to build a one-acre park that would honor the past, and be a civic jewel for the future.
Somehow, they know they'll get it done.
Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade's ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.
Contact him at: email@example.com
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