Bruce Zielsdorf was 18 when he received his draft notice for the Vietnam War. Or, as he calls it, a “love letter from Uncle Sam.”
After training, he was sent to Vietnam in June 1969. During his service, anti-war protests erupted and sentiment about U.S. involvement in the conflict was divided.
A year later, he returned to the U.S. Returning soldiers did not receive the welcome home they expected.
More than 50 years later, the Air Force veteran is giving fallen Vietnam War soldiers the welcome home they deserved. Zielsdorf and other Tarrant County veterans with the Tarrant County Vietnam Memorial Foundation are raising funds to build a monument honoring the more than 220 local soldiers killed in combat during the war.
“It’s important in our effort to point out that the foundation and our efforts do not address whether the war was right or wrong, or our involvement,” said Zielsdorf, vice president of the foundation. “It’s to honor those who answered the call.”
Members of the Tarrant County Vietnam Memorial Foundation are veterans and volunteers who raise awareness and funds for the memorial. The group hopes to install the monument by 2026.
The permanent monument will be at Veterans Memorial Park, 4120 Camp Bowie Blvd., in Fort Worth. The organization is working with the city of Fort Worth Parks Department and the Art Commision to finalize the design.
The estimated cost to build the memorial is between $300,000 and $500,000, said Damon Harvey, the foundation’s treasurer. To date, more than $31,000 has been raised.
Tarrant County Vietnam Memorial Foundation fundraising efforts
What: Run In Their Memory 5k/10k
When: 8 a.m. (registration), 9 a.m. (start) on Nov. 4, 2023
Where: Marine Creek Lake Lake, 2700 NW Loop 820, Fort Worth
What: Welcome Home Pickleball Tournament
When: 10 a.m. Jan. 13
Where: Chicken and Pickle, 4600 Merlot Ave., Grapevine
What: Welcome Home 4 man Scramble Golf Tournament
When: 7 a.m. (registration) 8 a.m. (shotgun start) on March 15
Where: Iron Horse Golf Club, 6200 Skylark Circle, North Richland Hills
The Buy a Brick campaign was designed to raise money for the monument. The public can purchase one in recognition of an individual or organization. The bricks will be part of the monument’s walkway.
The Tarrant County Vietnam Foundation launched a citywide, school competition to encourage students to submit a design for the monument in 2020.
Fort Worth resident Ryan Scieneaux won the competition three years ago when he was a senior at Brewer High School in White Settlement ISD. His design for the memorial resembles a tree of life to be surrounded by marble slabs. The monument will divide by years of death, the names of Tarrant County soldiers killed in action.
Scieneaux was inspired by the impact veterans still have in people’s lives, he said. Fallen leaves in his design represent the lives lost in the war.
“A lot of war memorials I’ve seen in the past felt very static and focused on the past,” he said. “I wanted to do something that focused more on the present. My inspiration came from the fact that the sacrifice these people made is still very much present today and very much alive.”
The memorial foundation is considering adding the names of soldiers who returned home and died from Agent Orange, Hepatitis C and other complications from their service in Vietnam, Zielsdorf said.
Fort Worth resident and sculptor Michael Pavlovsky will construct the monument. Pavlovsky is working alongside landscape architect Nick Nelson of the architectural firm Pacheco Koch.
Damon Harvey, the foundation’s treasurer, was born in the middle of the Vietnam War. The 53-year-old was in the Marine Reserves from 1989 to 1994 and on active Army duty from 1994 to 2000.
The efforts are important to him because of how poorly Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned, he said.
“There’s nothing I can do that will correct what happened, but I can at least let them know that they are appreciated and make these people feel like what they did was worth it,” he said.
Marcela Sanchez is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.