COLUMBIA CITY — “Even bad publicity is publicity.”
Ty Murphy, the man who spearheaded downtown Columbia City’s newest memorial, a tribute to Vietnam War veterans, took last week in stride after a photo of the memorial went viral on social media.
The memorial, which lies on a pentagon-shaped cement pad, features two 2,000-pound stones that list the names of Whitley County natives who died while serving in the Vietnam War. Alongside the large stone are two benches — one with an unfortunate misspelling.
One of the benches was supposed to read, “War on Terrorism,” but rather read, “War on Terriorism.”
A photo of the bench was taken on social media and spread across northeast Indiana, drawing attention from radio and television stations.
“I was so worried about making sure the names on the memorial were spelled correctly, I checked those several times, that I just glanced at the benches,” Murphy said.
The company out of Marion will replace or fix the misspelling on the $500 bench at no charge.
“I’m sure they aren’t very happy about it either,” Murphy said. “I don’t mind people picking on it a little bit, but this memorial is what is important, not the bench.”
The memorial features the names of 15 men killed in the war: Reino Panula, James Parrett, Terry Wright, Rodger Egolf, Lynn Harris, Stephan Himes, Robert Wilfong, Dale Mills, Gary Archibald, Max Johnson, Everett Culp, Avery Nye III, Rickey Scott, Lyle Smith and Roy Prater.
Murphy said he got the idea for the project on Memorial Day in 2016.
“My wife and I went to look at cemeteries, then decided to go downtown to look at the Vietnam memorial, and we realized there wasn’t one downtown,” Murphy said. “I later found out about the one at Morsches Park. Not many people know that it’s out there. I really wanted to get something downtown.”
Murphy spearheaded the project with the help of the Community Foundation of Whitley County. He got permission from the Whitley County Commissioners, then started raising money. Initially, the project was going to be one small stone with a cost of about $10,000.
“I always thought we could grow from there… we did,” Murphy said.
Murphy raised over $20,000.
“The support surprised me,” he said.
He said there’s a long list of donors, probably over 100 people, including the VFW with its beef and noodle dinner, the American Legion, Am Vets in South Whitley and even a local hockey team that hosted a hog roast in Tri-Lakes.
“We’ve received donations from $5 to over $3,000,” Murphy said. “Every little bit helped.”
The extra money allowed Murphy to grow the project into what it is today, two large stones, two stone benches and a concrete pad that’s wheelchair accessible.
“It’s three times the size of what we planned when we started,” Murphy said. “It’s a nice place where people can sit down and reflect.”
The memorial has been well-received by many in the community, especially veterans. Murphy said he heard a touching story about a veteran who stood at the memorial, stopped and saluted it before going on with his day.
“A lot of people know someone who has been to Vietnam,” Murphy said.
Murphy was drafted to serve in the war just five months after graduating from Columbia City High School, in 1968. The names engraved on the stone are special to him and many others who served with or knew the fallen soldiers.
“I went to high school with some of the people on the memorial — some of them I knew pretty well,” Murphy said.
Roy Prater, one of the men on the memorial, served in Vietnam twice. He spent a tour overseas for more than three years as a U.S. Marine, then wanted to go back, so he served another tour with the U.S. Air Force. He was a crew member on a helicopter that was sent to rescue soldiers who were trapped in the field, but the helicopter was shot down.
“Every one of them have neat stories behind them,” Murphy said. “There’s more to it than their names.”
Murphy isn’t clear exactly when the misspelling will be fixed, but expects it to be taken care of before the dedication ceremony Nov. 11.
The memorial was placed June 27 on the northwest corner of the courthouse lawn.