DEFIANCE - In the poorest areas of Vietnam, where the going wage is about 25 cents an hour, $28,000 will build an elementary school.
Four Defiance natives, all Vietnam veterans and all friends or acquaintances of the late Sgt. Michael Batt, want to build such a school in memory of the sergeant who was buried Monday, 36 years after he was killed in Vietnam.
"If Mike would have been back and something would've happened to us or anyone who was in Vietnam during that time, he probably would have done the same thing," said Juan Soliz, a GM Powertrain lab technician who remembers Sergeant Batt as an upperclassman at Defiance High School.
Tom Wiseman, a former Defiance mayor and Defiance County commissioner who teaches government at Bowling Green State University, knew Sergeant Batt from Boy Scout camp-outs. They both became Eagle Scouts before going to Vietnam - Sergeant Batt in the Army, Mr. Wiseman in the Marines.
Along with Dennis McBroom, who was a close friend of Sergeant Batt's in high school, and Tom Reed, whose parents knew Sergeant Batt's parents, Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Soliz are asking veterans groups, fraternal organizations, and the community to help build the Sgt. Michael Batt Memorial School.
They decided Saturday, two days before Sergeant Batt's funeral, to build the school through the Toledo-based DOVE Foundation, a charity organized by Vietnam veterans and other concerned people, which stands for Development of Vietnam Endeavors.
The organization can build a nursery school for about $7,000. But the friends wanted something bigger that would involve more people - they could raise $7,000 alone, and already have.
Driving in the funeral procession to the cemetery, past dozens of people lining downtown streets in pouring rain to wave American flags as Sergeant Batt's remains went by, Mr. Soliz said he was convinced many will help remember the young man who died in a plane crash in 1969 with a school.
Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Reed saw schools in Vietnam a few years ago. In the southeast Asian country known for steamy weather, children were squeezed together in spaces much smaller than most Ohio classrooms.
And they met other Vietnam veterans who had returned to help. One man, who lost a leg, was building an orphanage with three friends.
"I came back to reclaim my soul," the man told Mr. Wiseman, who used the quote to title a book he wrote about Vietnam.
Goodwill gestures such as that orphanage and the planned school may be the most effective way to help identify the remains of more servicemen missing in action, Mr. Reed said.
Local villagers are perhaps more likely than anyone to know where U.S. servicemen might be. If they see American veterans helping their communities, they might be more likely to share information.
"It's got to help," Mr. Reed said.
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