There soon will be a memorial to Belleville soldiers who were killed in Vietnam at Walnut Hill Cemetery, possibly by Memorial Day.
Neil Wegrzyn, 17, a junior at Belleville East High School and a member of Boy Scouts Troop 11, is planning the memorial as his Eagle Project.
One of the Eagle Scout requirements is a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits a religious institution, a school or the community at large.
He has gathered information on 15 young men from the Belleville area who were killed in the Vietnam War, raised money to buy a black granite monument and will have it engraved with the names of the men and placed near the VFW monument on Cypress Avenue at an eastern entrance of the cemetery, near the other military memorials.
Never miss a local story.
Neil has been working on the project for nearly two years, but he said it really began to form in his mind back in the eighth grade during a trip to Washington, D.C., when he visited the Vietnam memorial.
“There were all those names and I wondered how many of them were guys from Belleville,” he said. “We found 13 or 14 on the official website, and when I began thinking about an Eagle Scout project that came to mind.”
Neil was able to find newspaper articles on most of the men and researched biographies. He prepared a flyer that he passed out at local businesses and military organizations to spread the word of what he planned to do and to get support for the idea.
“It turned out to be a bigger project than I had thought,” he said. “It took a lot of patience and persistence.”
It turned out to be a bigger project than I had thought. It took a lot of patience and persistence.
Neil Wegrzyn, 17, of Belleville
Within a year he had raised $1,000 and through his persistence, he eventually brought in $4,500, he said.
He ordered a black granite monument from Tisch Monuments of Belleville for about $4,300. The stone is rare and had to be imported from India, but Neil wanted it to look like a miniature of the original monument in Washington. It really is two stones set at an angle of 125 degrees, just like the real thing.
The monument is being engraved with the names of the soldiers. It will sit on a base of concrete at the cemetery.
Wegrzyn has been in touch with a lot of family members from all over the country, he said. “I’m getting the biographies together to try and print out in a book that I can hand out to family members at the ceremony as well as put some copies in local libraries,” he said.
The dedication isn’t set in stone, so to speak, but Neil hopes everything will be in place by the time of the annual commemoration Memorial Day ceremony at the Belleville cemetery on May 30.
What will be set in stone is the memory of the sacrifices of the young men from Belleville who died in Vietnam.
“This will be something that you can come here in maybe 50 or 100 years from now and it will still be standing here,” he said.
If you have any questions or would like to talk to Neil about his project, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Wally Spiers at email@example.com.