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TUPELO, MISS. (WCBI) – They risked their lives as young men to fight for the freedoms all of us cherish. But when they returned to the United States after their tour of duty, many Vietnam veterans found a less than welcoming homecoming.

Now, a Tupelo park will be the site of a memorial that many Vietnam era veterans say will help in the long healing process.

Wet weather may have moved the groundbreaking ceremony inside the aquatic center, but the message was clear, work will soon begin on a project to display an F 105 Thunderchief and a replica of the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Rex Moody said the 294 foot long Memorial Wall will be about 60 percent of the size of the Washington DC Memorial and will have names of all of those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

He says the memorial wall will help many come to terms with the conflict.

“It’s a different type war than what we have today, it was jungle, dirty, rice paddies, you didn’t know who was going to be the man looking at, who you was going to be looking at, was he your enemy or not, they can’t give that up and they need something to reach out and touch and I think this wall will provide that to them,” Moody said.

At the same site, an F 105 Thunderchief will be displayed. The Thunderchief, or “Thud” as it was nicknamed, played a vital role in the Vietnam campaign.

In fact, two area veterans , Colonel Smitty Harris and Lieutenant Colonel Gene Smith, flew the Thunderchief over North Vietnam, both were shot down and held as Prisoners of War. The true American heroes say they are honored to see the F 105 project come to life.

“This is part of a giving, giving community, and a caring community, the F 105 is just an addition to this beautiful park and that, with the Vietnam Wall here is going to just make this a place people will want to come to,” Harris said.

“It was a great airplane, that does not get the proper respect in the air war over Vietnam that it should because it did all of the hard targets, no other planes did, at the frequency the F 105 did,” Smith said.

Organizers say the F 105 could be on display by July 4th, it will be about a year before the Vietnam Wall Memorial is complete.

The city of Tupelo committed 150 thousand dollars toward the projects. Organizers are trying to raise more than 800 thousand dollars for the Vietnam Wall project. Panels can be sponsored for $3,000.

If you would like more information about sponsoring a panel, go to www.createfoundation.com

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