The Sidney Vietnam Veterans Memorial Sculpture is on display now until Aug. 31, at the MonDak Heritage Center. The project includes a bronze sculpture by Lyle Schwabauer, photos by Carl Hansen and various other historical items from the Vietnam War era. The entirety of the project was brought to the community by Margaret and Nolan Mikelson.
“We decided that this was something that should have been done years ago,” Margaret said. The memorial is meant to be a welcome-home of sorts – one so few Vietnam veterans received all those years ago.
Margaret and Nolan decided to challenge the graduating class of 1967 from Sidney High School with a project to honor classmates who served during the conflict. Schwabauer was enlisted as the artist. He’s the one who brought the sculpture to life.
He began reading old letters from soldiers, looking at photos online. Through the process, the same statement kept coming to him: “No soldier left behind.”
That’s the direction it took; two soldiers helping a wounded soldier in the rice fields of Vietnam. Schwabauer, who now resides in Helena, said he had many veterans look at the sculpture as it was in progress. One woman, who served as a nurse in Vietnam, found it especially meaningful.
“You know, you really captured it,” she said after sitting in quiet reflection with the piece for some time.
It was that statement that really sealed it for Schwabauer. He knew he was on the right track.
“I’m really pleased by it. I’m pleased by the turnout at the unveiling,” he said. “So many of my classmates were there. To be able to go back and spend time with my classmates – I’ve only been back a couple times in the last 30 years – it was a special time for me. I got to reconnect with my classmates.”
The project provided some meaningful closure to local veterans. Margaret, Nolan and Schwabauer wanted it to serve as healing piece.
“It’s not that I resent anything that happened to the men who came home from Afghanistan or Kuwait or Iraq,” Margaret said. “It was that I looked at that and felt it was wonderful they were doing it now, but they missed a generation who deserved that same kind of welcome.
“It was time to tell these veterans, ‘Welcome home and thank you for your service.’”
Margaret said the unveiling of the sculpture, which took place May 25 at the MonDak, was an emotional affair.
“If you could have seen the emotion on their faces, there was meaning. It meant a lot,” she said.
Although it was a pet project of the Class of ’67, Margaret noted it wasn’t meant for their class alone and many other Sidney classes contributed. From 1956 up to 1975 helped formulate the project. Two people who lived in Texas and had never visited Montana heard about it and donated, another graduate from Wolf Point contributed as well.
“We are very fortunate that we had so much support,” Margaret said.
In Sidney, the Foundation for Community Care also gave the group the option to offer tax deductible donations. Margaret said they also provided the group with community credibility.
Along with the sculpture is a book and a binder, both filled with photographs from Vietnam. In the binder is a collection of emails from those who served. The book lists Vietnam veterans from Sidney.
“I do remember coming home in ’68 and feeling almost embarrassed to be alive,” one email states. “No one would even talk to me about Vietnam.”
Another reads, “Thank you for the depth of your commitment to this legacy project – one that honors the service and commitment by so many servicemen and women to the defense of our nation in perhaps the most tumultuous times in our recent American history.”
The project in its entirety will be on display at the MonDak Heritage Center until Aug. 31. After that, the sculpture will go to Sidney’s Stockman Bank for 25 years. At the end of that period, Stockman Bank will have the option to turn it over to the county, where it will be displayed permanently in the courthouse.