PARIS — The public is invited to the unveiling of the new Vietnam Memorial comprised of artifacts – at the Maine Veterans’ Home this weekend in an effort to remember and honor those who served and died in one of the country’s most controversial wars.

The ceremony will be held just ahead of Veterans Day at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Veterans’ Home at 477 High St. in Paris. The guest speaker will be state Rep. Tom Winsor of Norway.

Veterans’ Home Administrator Joel Dutton launched the project in March to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. He noted at the time veterans who returned stateside weren’t greeted as heroes with ticker tape parades as had been previously done during World Wars I and II, but instead were often spit on and ridiculed. He wanted to honor those veterans and shed light on the trials and tribulations they went through overseas and after returning home.

“I didn’t get as much as I hoping for but I did get some stuff,” Dutton said Monday about artifacts for the memorial. “It’s an interesting collection.”

Highlights of the Vietnam memorabilia include the flight suit of a local man who flew 100 missions during the war, a typical C-ration meal that was served to a soldier in the field, a prisoner of war/missing in action bracelet and the story of the POW behind it and South Vietnamese currency.

Richard Grover of Mason Township is the local electronic warfare officer who flew 100 missions in a F105 in North Vietnam from April 1967 until November 1967, Dutton said. His hat that will be included in the display has a hash mark for each mission he flew. Grover was part of the Wild Weasel program, which was developed to counter the Russian’s SA-2 air defense system in Vietnam.

“What they would do is go out and track and find the missile sites and take them out,” Dutton said about the Wild Weasels.

Grover said he was one the of people who volunteered to go over to Vietnam.

“I decided that I wanted to be able to do something in my Air Force career besides fly B52s,” he said, adding he flew those planes for five or six years prior to heading to Vietnam. “I got a phone call one day … saying I had a classified message at the command post, to come down and read it. They said I was going to be assigned to this program called Wild Weasel.”

The thing was, Grover and most of his squadron had never heard of this classified program. He asked a major about the Wild Weasels.

“He told me their job was to hone in … and pick up the radar signals for search and destroy missions,” Grover said. “I said, ‘You got to be sh****** me.’ That was the reaction from every other Weasel that I met.”

An abbreviation of the phrase was later put on some of the crew’s flight patches, he added.

Grover said he flew missions several times a week in the seven months he was overseas.

“It proved to be a challenging and interesting mission. … More than 60 of the 100 areas that we included were high-threat areas,” he said. “The thing that we all learned over there, at that time, was that we were not winning the war. We kept on going back and bombing the same old targets over and over.”

Part of the Weasels’ mission was to stop the flow of supplies heading into South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. But even as he recalls these memories, it’s sometimes hard for Grover to put them into words.

“There was a lot that goes into it, a lot that I learned when I was there,” he said. “I find it difficult to talk about it at home.”

On top of the artifacts donated, Dutton has compiled stories from Vietnam vets to include in the display, including Grover’s four-page story. Dutton hopes others will add to the memorial in the future.

“Once people see what it was I was trying to do, more people will be interested in contributing,” he said.

Anyone interested in donating memorabilia or sharing stories can contact Dutton at 743-6300.

[email protected]

Editor’s note: Story updated to reflect Richard Grover’s position was a electronic warfare officer. He was not a pilot.

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