Veterans, their families and residents gathered last Saturday under a downpour at the Cove for the dedication of the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial in Seltzer Park.
The granite monument stands at the south edge of the park and pays homage to the 113 people from Seaside who served in the war.
“These are all veterans that went to Vietnam, and the families of veterans and families of the KIA (killed in action),” Mark Hansen, who helped organize the project, said.
Ky Jennings, the co-organizer, said he was among 17 students in the Class of 1963 to serve in the war.
“We lived in a time of peace, being post-World War II kids, and we like to say, ‘it was magic,’” Jennings said. “We knew each other so well, most of us having gone through 12 years of school together when Seaside was a small town community.
Many of us are close friends 70 years later.
“When the war in Vietnam got really intense the guys were being drafted or they enlisted in various branches of the service. Out of 54 boys in my class, 17 of them were sent to Vietnam. The war was very unpopular, but they did their duty and came back to a hostile country where they were blamed and shamed. They’ve come through it and they deserve the respect and gratitude they needed. This is what we’ve given them through the memorial.”
Kent Pollock, who came from Phoenix, Arizona, for the dedication, said he was amazed at how many of his classmates are remembered on the wall, including his brother, Craig Pollock, Class of 1965.
In 2016, Hansen teamed with Jennings, Crayton Morris, John Alto and others to launch a fundraising effort and make sure each of Seaside’s Vietnam veterans received recognition. They painstakingly sought out all those who had attended the high school who had served in the war.
Seltzer Park, on the east side of Sunset Boulevard in the Cove, was chosen as the memorial site for its historical connection to the community, view of the beach and accessibility to visitors. The City Council gave its blessing to the project.
The city’s Public Works Department cleared, excavated and installed the monument in March 2020. They later added sidewalks, landscaping and wheelchair accessibility.
Designer Tony Goiburn, of OM Stone, created the monument using laser sketching and weather-coated the granite before installation.
“I’ve done big giant ones and really tiny tree memorials,” Goiburn said at the dedication. “And they all mean something to me. This was a very wonderful project because not only those names — and we went through the list of names a million times — but their stories came out.”
Karl Marlantes, the Seaside High School grad who went on to write about his decorated war service in “Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War,” described the city in the ‘60s.
“When we grew up, everybody talked about their fathers and their uncles being in the service,” Marlantes said. “We call it the military today, but we saw it as the service. You felt like you were part of the republic. And just like you have to pay taxes to make the roads work, sometimes you have to serve to keep the republic safe. And that’s what we felt.”
Seaside’s high participation in the war was “unique to this little town,” he said. “The percentage of kids that went over there was huge. There’s five or six dead from this tiny little city, which is really unusual.”
Marlantes was awarded a Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts and 10 air medals. He also writes candidly about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“You heard people say, ‘Oh, gosh, you’re a Vietnam veteran, welcome home,’” Marlantes said. “And quite frankly, it sounded a little hollow to me sometimes. It’s a little bit lame, you know. I came home, as all of you did, and it wasn’t a very good welcome.”
In Seaside, it was different.
“There was this feeling that we were always part of this community and always welcome,” Marlantes said. “The girls and the women were always there for us and our friends were always there for us. And that’s what this is all about. Our friends, our neighbors, our classmates who we went to school with. They were always there for us. And now this is a monument to that solidarity and that love and that friendship.”