LEXINGTON —“American soldiers in combat die two deaths,” Vietnam veteran Jim Bliven said, “their first death is on the battlefield when they spill their American blood on foreign soil. They die again when the people they fought for forget about the sacrifices they made.”
The Lexington Veteran Pavilion was born out of this desire to ensure local veterans and their service are never forgotten.
Jim Bliven is an Army veteran and served in the Vietnam War from 1970 to 1971. “I didn’t know what we were headed for, but we found out quick.” Bliven said of the 13 months he spent in country in Southeast Asia.
Bliven said he reflected on his service, the people he served with, and the sacrifices made and thought how terrible it would be if any veterans service was forgotten in this country.
The initial idea was to have streets in town named after local veterans who died in Vietnam, Bliven presented this idea to the Lexington city council and Mayor John Fagot.
Instead of street signs, the city proposed a memorial to local veterans, which would double as a space for the community to use. Bliven noted Lexington does not currently have a dedicated memorial to its veterans.
“Those men who died preformed the ultimate sacrifice, those men were so young, barely out of their teens” Bliven said during an informational meeting about the pavilion at the Lexington Library, “the survivors have guilt, we wonder why we survived, we should have died over there, but God didn’t want me to die there.”
“Vietnam keeps sneaking back into our lives,” Bliven said who was recently diagnosed with a heart condition, which can be traced back to his exposure to Agent Orange in the jungles of Vietnam.
Bliven noted the Veteran Pavilion is a huge project and they have to “get their nose to the grindstone,” to ensure they get enough donations for the project.
The city of Lexington is providing land at Kirkpatrick Memorial Park for the pavilion and will maintain it, he said.
Bliven is joined in the Veteran Pavilion project by another veteran, Dick Prasch, who served with the Marines in the Vietnam War. He was in country during the last part of 1966, all of 1967 and the first third of 1968.
Prasch said the Veterans Pavilion project really started when he joined the Marines in the 1960s. To this day, the Marine Corp motto, Semper Fi, “always faithful,” has been his mantra as well.
The mission of the Veterans Pavilion, Prasch said, is multi-fold. Its first goal is to honor those who have served in the military who were from Lexington as well as providing a space for outgoing activities.
The pavilion itself will consist of an open-air amphitheater which will be open to the public for a variety of events including concerts, area acting performances, public rallies and other larger events.
Veterans will be honored with an educational walk surrounding the pavilion, each of the five military service branches will have their own monument with a statue. Each will feature a QR code for visitors, especially the younger generation, to access information and facts about each service branch on their smartphones, according to Veterans Pavilion information.
Additional parking will allow people to access the newly renovated lake, and there is space for additional tributes should the exhibit grow in the future.
The pavilion represents a concentrated effort to ensure people realize there were people from the Lexington community who served in wars from World War I to Iraq and Afganistan.
“It’s not a cheap endeavor,” Prasch said, “but we don’t want it to be a cheap endeavor.”
The pavilion itself will face north, toward St. Ann’s Parish Center, Bliven said, groundbreaking may take place in the spring of 2020 depending on the funding the project receives. It could be open to the public by the summer of 2022.
The Lexington Veteran Pavilion is one of the 78 organizations and causes which can be donated to during the Lexington Community Foundation’s Give BIG Lexington event.
LCF Executive Director Jackie Berke was also at the informational meeting to talk about how people can donate to the pavilion and other projects.
Berke said the LCF is working as the fiscal agent of the Veterans Pavilion project and they are currently in the process of accepting donations as a part of Give BIG Lexington until Nov. 14, the official Give BIG day.
The fundraising goal for the project during Give BIG is $800,000, Bereke said there will be an in-kind donation from the city and the LCF is working with the county Veterans Service Coordinator Steve Zerr to find grant funding for this project.
The 9th Annual Give BIG Lexington is being held this year and the LCF will be headquartered at the Dawson County Annex Building for those who bring their donations in by person, Berke said. They may also donate online anytime at www.givebiglexington.org
The Lexington Veterans Pavilion will be one of the highlighted causes during Give BIG Lexington this year.
“We cannot forget those people who died in service to their country,” said Bliven, “no one should be left behind.”