Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Black, Naval Special Warfare Public Affairs
CORONADO, California — When violent times arise, many brave men and women rise up to answer the call and serve in the military. Long after their tours have ended some of them, as veterans and civilians, come together once again to preserve and maintain the memory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. One monument, that memorializes the 2,564 Navy and Coast Guard personnel who died while serving in the “Brown Water Navy” of the Vietnam War, is meticulously maintained by a team of dedicated Vietnam War veterans.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Murphy is the president of the Vietnam Unit Memorial Monument Foundation. This foundation leads the effort of maintaining the historical connection between all generations of Sailors.
“The mission is to establish a very strong link with the past,” said Murphy, “This was something a couple of guys with a vision started. Our mission is to maintain a link with the past and with new brown water youngsters like the Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman graduates that they have here.”
Murphy comes to the memorial four times a week to clean and maintain the boats and wall. VUMMF has a couple “working parties” during the month, where members averaging 60 years old, maintain the memorial.
Recently, Naval Special Warfare Sailors, which includes current special warfare combatant crewman, from the West Coast participated in a community service project to help the regulars out.
“When I look at the memorial, especially now, it certainly seems like a representation of paying homage to those who have gone before us,” said Chief Petty Officer Kongesor, a volunteer coordinator. “We did some initial swabbing, cleaned off the spider webs, brush off all the bird poop and hosed everything down. We cleaned it up and made it presentable for that next week when they were hosting a reunion.”
The connection between the Sailors of the past and present was solidified through the telling of sea stories in between bouts of cleaning.
“It was wonderful, we enjoy meeting them and they really enjoyed meeting us and hearing some of our stories that we have to tell,” said Murphy.
Kongesor reflected on one story that he heard while cleaning a command boat displayed at the monument.
“I remember a couple of guys telling me ‘Hey that is the one to be on, that was the comms suite, because it had communication equipment in it, it had to have A/C. So if you could get on that boat, you would jump down into that cool section and cool off on a hot steamy day. That would be the place to eat chow before you get kicked out and head back to your small boy,’” Kongesor said. “Which is something that we totally take for granted in most of our ships today”
Basic Training Command for special warfare combatant craft crewman have their graduation ceremonies at the memorial frequently.
“The people that are most impressed with the boats are the students because they have these new high tech boats, satellites and all the gizmos,” Murphy said. “All we had was a [high frequency] and [ultra high frequency] radio when we went out on patrol when we went we could be out there 100 miles by ourselves.”
Members of the foundation seek fresh recruits to sustain the monument as they naturally grow older or move away.
“We are always reaching down for help and we think there is enough redundancy in the people that we know and in our families, but sustainability is the big code word for us and we are always reaching out to the younger generation.”
Kongesor offers advice that could help sustain the history of the past for the future generations of Sailors. He believes the time is now for junior and senior Sailors to jump in and carry the torch.
“Wars were waged in the past and now you are seeing those aged Soldiers and Sailors reaching the point where they are starting to recognize that they have to pass the torch,” Kongesor said. “Who is going to carry that torch? That is the Sailors, that’s us in the Navy recognizing that we have history, pride and traditions that we have to maintain.”
The monument is located on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, on the bay side next to Commander, Naval Surface Forces Pacific and the Navy Gateway Inn and Suites.
I AM YOUR WALL
The Rods and Wire of Steel at my Core are
For those Who gave their Lives
Never to return in Body.
They are the strength of our Wall.
The Mass of Mortar of my Body
Is for the Mass of Men and Women
Who left their Families and
Dedicated their Courage and Time to a Cause.
The Medal of Honors and Navy Crosses on my Face
Are for the strength and Resolve
For which We stood.
I am your Wall and
I stand before three Boats
That represent all the Units of our Conflict — all Conflicts.
I am your Wall,
Conceived and Nurtured and
Built with Loving Care and
Thought by a few for All.
I am your Wall,
Standing in Respectful Memory,
Hoping to have no others built like Me
But ready to Serve,
If ever called upon again.
I am your Wall,
Respect Me, Hold Me, Caress Me, Love Me,
As I Love You.
— Lt. Thomas Mason, USN
The Vietnam Unit Memorial on Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, Calf.