- Veterans Memorial Plaza is located across Auditorium Circle from the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. The Municipal Auditorium was built in 1926 as a tribute to the veterans of World War I. In 1979 the auditorium suffered a devastating fire and the City of San Antonio seriously considered a controlled demolition of a true architectural masterpiece. After an overwhelming outcry from the community, the mayor and city council reconsidered and the auditorium went through a $9 million restoration, returning it to its original glory. In 1981 the auditorium was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was re-dedicated to the veterans of all our nation’s wars. In 2014 the auditorium was redeveloped and renamed – Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
- Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church is located across E. Martin Street from Veterans Memorial Plaza. Saint Mark’s was built in 1859 and has been well attended over the past 150 years: In 1861 U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee regularly attended services there while stationed in San Antonio. Subsequently, Robert E. Lee became Supreme Commander of the Confederate Army during the War Between the States. On November 17th 1934 Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor and Lyndon Baines Johnson were married in Saint Mark’s. In 1998 Saint Mark’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Scottsdale, Arizona artist, Austin Deuel was a Marine Corps combat artist in Vietnam. On April 30th 1967, during the hill fights above Khe Sanh, he witnessed the scene depicted in the larger-than-life bronze sculpture “Hill 881 South”. Years later, after becoming a professional artist, he reduced the image to a table-top size bronze sculpture, which was purchased by John D. Baines. Mr. Baines offered it as the model for San Antonio’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
- “Hill 881 South” was chosen to be San Antonio’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, because it is symbolic of the compassion of one man for another during the heat of battle. It was not chosen because it depicts a particular battle.
- Contrary to a popular urban myth, perpetuated by the San Antonio media, the Marines depicted in the memorial are not intended to be anyone in particular. Any suggestion that the figures are the likeness of a real person, or persons, is incorrect. Even though the scene was taken from the artist’s memory of an actual event, the memorial is intended to be symbolic.
- The memorial was cast and assembled in Scottsdale, Arizona. The ten-ton bronze sculpture – as you see it today – was carried from Scottsdale to San Antonio on a large eighteen wheeler flatbed truck. The journey took three days. The truck driver and the team that accompanied him were all Vietnam veterans.
- While at a truck stop, in Van Horn, Texas, a bystander, who happened to be a Vietnam veteran, asked if his blind six-year old son could climb onto the memorial, so he could “see it” with his hands…a very emotional experience for the crowd that had gathered. A large group of truckers asked permission to escort “Hill 881 South” across the West Texas desert. A convoy of over 20 eighteen wheelers, with American flags and yellow ribbons waving in the wind, was truly a sight to behold.
- When the truck transporting “Hill 881 South” arrived at the San Antonio city limit, there was a surprise “Welcome Home” committee waiting. Motor cycle clubs from San Antonio and the South Texas area had gathered to escort the valued cargo to Veterans Memorial Plaza. A full-police escort and over 300 Vietnam veteran motor cyclists followed three abreast, with American & POW MIA flags on full display…creating a seemingly endless ribbon of color streaming along the freeway into downtown San Antonio.
- When “Hill 881 South” was positioned on its base, at Veterans Memorial Plaza, it was no coincidence that the radio operator was looking upward at the American flag. In the actual battle scene, the young Marine was looking skyward for a medical evacuation helicopter (MEDEVAC). The height of the flag pole and the position of the radio operator’s head were designed and constructed to have him looking at the “Stars and Stripes” for inspiration.
- The flagpole at Veterans Memorial Plaza is 65-feet in height and weighs more than 3,800 pounds. The height of the flagpole does not include it’s 10-foot black granite base. It was designed in the shape of a pentagon to represent the five branches of the military. An internal halyard was installed, within the pole, to protect the hoisting cables from the elements. Atop the pole is a swiveling eagle…forever facing into the wind.
- Permanently encased within the memorial is an air-tight compartment that contains a complete list of the names, serial numbers, branches of the military and dates of service of the men and women from the San Antonio area who served in the Vietnam War. Over 60,000 fine young Americans from our community served in Vietnam. This memorial is a tribute to all of them.
- There were over 85 fundraising events from January 1986 to November 1988. They included a USO style Bob Hope show, 24-hour radio-thon, The “Pork Bowl” football game between the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, a World Championship boxing match, golf tournament, stock car races, walk-a-thons, battle of the bands country & western concert, dance marathon contest, swim meet, neighborhood bake sales…the list goes on-n-on.
- The larger-than-life bronze sculpture “Hill 881 South” cost $200,000.00 and the actual out-of-pocket cost of Veterans Memorial Plaza was $450,000.00. However, architects, engineers, contractors, suppliers, photographers, public relations agencies, and fund raising consultants donated their time, profits and materials. The total estimated value of the project was well over $1,000,000.00.
- The Honorary Steering Committee had no political, religious or racial fences. The committee was made-up of a virtual who’s who of politics, religion, business and retired military. A brief list of the committee members is as follows: Vice President George H. W. Bush; US Senator John G. Tower; US Congressman Tom G. Loeffler; US Congressman Albert G. Bustamante; US Marshall Bill Jonas; Texas Governor Mark W. White; former Texas Governor Bill P. Clements; San Antonio Mayor Henry G. Cisneros; former San Antonio mayors Charles L. Becker & Lila M. Cockrell; San Antonio Police Chief Wm. O. “Bill” Gibson; San Antonio Fire Chief I.O. Martinez; Bexar County Sheriff Harlon Copeland; Rev. Ernest Dixon, Jr.; Rev. Buckner Fanning; Archbishop Patrick Flores; Gen. Andrew P. Iosue, USAF (Ret.); Lt. Gen. John P. Flynn, USAF (Ret.); Brig. Gen. R. Kenneth Fleenor, USAF (Ret.); and Col. James R. O’Mara, USMC (Ret.).
- Honorary Steering Committee members – Lt. Gen. John P. Flynn, USAF (Ret.) and Brig. Gen. Kenneth R. Fleenor, USAF (Ret.) were prisoners of war in North Vietnam for over six-years. They were released at Gia Lam Airbase, Hanoi, North Vietnam on March 14th 1973.
- Honorary Steering Committee member and Chairman of the Finance Committee – Gen. Andrew P. Iosue, USAF (Ret.) piloted the first U.S. Air Force aircraft to land at Gia Lam Airbase, Hanoi, North Vietnam, in over 19 years. His January 1973 mission was in support of the release of the American prisoners of war.
- Board of Advisors member – Master Sergeant Terry W. Stewart led the Marine Corps detachment that unveiled “Hill 881 South” at the dedication ceremony on November 9th 1986. The Marines wore battle dress uniforms, with 782 gear, for the memorial’s unveiling. Sergeant Stewart fought in the defense of Hill 881 South during the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh Combat Base during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Acknowledgments:The photographs posted on this website were provided by the following friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of San Antonio, Inc.:
Bud and Dana Shannon
BUD SHANNON PHOTOGRAPHY, INC.
J.R. (Randy) Ramseur, Architect
JOHNSON DEMPSEY & ASSOCIATES, ARCHITECTS
COL. Albert J. Nahas, USA (Ret.)
Lt. Col. Ray Madonna, USMC (Ret.)
U.S. Naval Academy- Class of 1962
The behind-the-scenes story of San Antonio’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial has drawn national attention: Published authors, documentary filmmakers, and motion picture producers and directors are intrigued by what actually took place in “Military City USA”. The stuff movies are made of.