SSU Vet Works to Make Vietnam War Memorials More Visible

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James Bleifus is working to drop the cloak of invisibility that envelopes the more than 90 Vietnam War Memorials in California.

The marble block in a redwood grove at Sonoma State University that honors fallen veterans is one of them.

This year, the Desert Storm veteran with a 2004 Masters degree in English from SSU, created the California Vietnam War Memorial Project to document the stories behind these memorials throughout the state. One story he is researching is the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Grove at SSU which will be celebrating its 30th year on the Rohnert Park campus this month.

Bleifus, who lives in Cotati, has traveled to many of these memorials across the state that shine a light on the significance of the war and its fallen warriors. "Although the Vietnam War ended in 1975, we continue to reflect on its impact," he says. "These war memorials help us to do that. I've found Vietnam memorials as new as 2011 honoring those who have passed, and with each memorial I find I want to learn more about the stories behind them."

For Bleifus, some of the memorials are modest, others elaborate. He has found all that he has visited been moving in their own way.

"When it comes to memorials, I've learned that size doesn't matter. Each has its own voice and gravitas," he says.

Bleifus also notes that many of the people who created or dedicated these memorials are passing away, taking their stories with them. That has been true at SSU where one of the founders, an ex-Marine and beloved Englsh teacher, died last year.

Recently, the County of Sonoma Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution recognizing the 30th anniversary of the SSU campus memorial.

Country Joe McDonald to perform concert at SSU memorial on Nov. 11

70s rocker and anit-war activist Country Joe McDonald will play a concert at the end of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Grove at Sonoma State University on Sunday, Nov. 11.

McDonald, who has established four war memorials on his own in California as a result of his own anti-war activism in the San Francisco Bay Area, will join a group of veterans, local officials and supporters from the community at an event beginning at 3 p.m. at the Grove.

The event also includes readings by local veterans and a performance by the Redwood Chordsmen.

Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie and Cotati Mayor Susan Harvey will read resolutions from their respective cities supporting the Grove's anniversary. Resolutions from the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors and the County of Sonoma Human Rights Commission will also be read.

The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Grove at SSU was dedicated on November 13, 1982 and is unique because it may be the only Vietnam memorial on a California college or university campus, says Bleifus.

The Grove's original monument, dedicated in 1982, included the names of the 56 Vietnam veterans from Sonoma County who lost their lives in the war. In 1987, a marble monument was dedicated with 78 names that included the original 56 names from Sonoma County and an additional 22 names from the five surrounding counties that SSU serves, making the Grove on of the few memorials dedicated to a region.

The Grove is located near the main entrance to the university off E. Cotati Ave. between the construction site of the new student center and the boiler plant.

Bleifus served as a military policeman in the first Gulf War and was a member of Team Hollywood during the 1992 L.A. riots. He has turned to writing and photography and is at work finishing his Gulf War manuscript, "Sand Like Talcum" and launching a literary journal. His black and white photos have been published in various photo magazines and journals.

To raise funds for a traveling exhibit and photo book on the memorials, he launched a Kickstarter project in August 2012 to raise $12,000. It failed to generate more than $565 among 11 supporters, but Bleifus is not giving up.

"Vietnam memorials have historically had problems with funding," he observes. "The Capitol memorial in Sacramento, the Wall in Washington DC, even the SSU memorial, all struggled with money issues."

A video describing the project was filmed on location at the SSU Memorial Grove and is featured on the project website at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/743154461/california-vietnam-war-memorial-project.

Bleifus joins fellow veterans Terri Boyer (Desert Storm) and Al Liner (Vietnam) to discuss war from the veterans' perspective at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6 in Warren Auditorium as part of the annual War and Peace lecture series. The focus of his discussion will be on "meeting the enemy." More on the California Vietnam War Memorial Project can be found at http://californiavietnamwarmemorialproject.com/.

An exhibit on the history of the SSU Vietnam Veterans Memorial Grove is now at the University Library on the second floor.

From an SSU Veteran
I was one of the returning vietnam vets
that wanted to increase our knowledge
I graduated in 1973
our lives were lived under a blanket while at school
the flower children you speak so quaintly about
were the ones that spit on and called us baby killers
none of us could be honest with who we were
by luck -I found an understanding professor
without his help i would not have been able to complete my degree
I feel blessed for the knowledge I absorbed at sonoma state
I hold my degree as a cherished possession
receiving insights magazine is a true highlight
I always get a smile when I receive it
I found a small cabin overlooking a river
incased in an old growth forest
with me came two others
thoreau and gandhi
friends I met at sonoma state
the three of us set out with the mission
to discover ones self
which turned out to be my life time quest
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