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RUTLAND, Vt. – The first chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America is preparing for the day when there won't be any members left to care for the monument to their service.
The chapter is offering the city of Rutland at least $10,000 to set up a fund that will provide perpetual care for the monument, which includes a sarcophagus-like white marble carving of a prone soldier.
"Basically what we're looking at is the fact that all of us Vietnam vets are getting older, and eventually the chapter will disband," said Andy Megrath, the president of the local chapter, formed in 1980.
On paper, the chapter has 141 members, some of whom joined just to be a member of Chapter 1, but many of those men are spread across the world. Only six to eight attend the monthly meetings, Megrath said.
They don't know how long they can hang on.
"I've been president of the chapter for 13 years now," Megrath said. "I'm thinking it's time for me to step down and have somebody else take over, but as of right now it doesn't look like anybody is really interested in doing that."
Relative to World War II and Korean War veterans, Vietnam veterans aren't that old. Megrath, a combat veteran who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, is 68, the median age of Vietnam vets, according to the national organization.
But Megrath sees Vietnam veterans still struggling with the emotional challenges that he believes stem, at least in part, to the strains of fighting an unpopular war and then not being welcomed home as heroes.
Nationally, the Vietnam Veterans of America is increasing in size, now with a membership of about 81,000. While some local chapters have gone under over the years, new ones are being formed, especially in the Sun Belt, where many are retiring, said Rick Weidman, the organization's executive director of government affairs.
Weidman lived in Vermont in the 1970s and knows many of the vets who formed Chapter 1.
"It says to me that particular group of guys are tired," Weidman said of the Rutland chapter. "That's happened at various places over the last 30 years. Depending on how much they had to go through, chapters die."
Chapter 1 is offering the city $10,000 to support the monument in the Main Street Park, although that figure could increase when the chapter eventually dissolves. Any money left in the chapter's accounts could be added to the seed money, said Chapter Secretary Jack Crowther, 74, who served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966.
The Rutland garden club keeps up plantings at the memorial, but occasionally the flags and commemorative plaques need to be replaced or updated.
"We're looking ahead," Crowther said, "and since we do have some funds, we don't want to just drop it and leave it."