A Boy Scout who raised nearly $4,500 to erect a Belleville Vietnam Memorial in Walnut Hill Cemetery now has written a book about the 15 soldiers it honors.
Neil Wegrzyn is printing 30 softback copies of the book, also called “Belleville Vietnam Memorial,” for loved ones of the men, all killed in the line of duty, and six hardbacks for local libraries and veterans organizations.
“The one thing that stands out in my mind is how young they were,” said Neil, a member of Troop 11, based at St. Peter’s Cathedral. “They were 18 to 24, and the majority were 18 to 20. I’m 17 right now, so some of them were only a year older. That could have been me.”
The black granite memorial is 3 feet high, 4 feet wide and 6 inches thick. It was dedicated in May as part of an Eagle Scout project.
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The memorial is engraved with “All Gave Some, Some Gave All” and the names and birth and death years of the men: Allen Grey, Pete Hammond, Ronald Roberts, Terry Pensoneau, John Lankford, Charles Geller, James Klopmeyer, Philip Smith, Lawrence Denny, William Thompson, Joseph Wylie III, James Neumeyer, Thomas Irwin, Lawrence Grass and Glenn Eisenhour.
Neil raised money by soliciting donations with a flier, holding a car wash and working with Belleville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1739 to pass out buddy poppies in front of a Schnucks store.
“I’ve been encouraging him, but he’s worked mostly on his own as far as coming up with the idea and following through with it,” said Neil’s father, John Wegrzyn.
The book’s 45 pages are divided into sections, one for each of the 15 soldiers. All were from Belleville or lived a significant part of their lives in the city.
Neil interviewed family and friends and spent many hours looking at newspaper articles from 1969 to 1971 on microfilm at Belleville Public Library.
“That was a big help, but it made my head spin,” said the Belleville East High School senior who also plays guitar in jazz band.
Neil joined Cub Scouts in second grade. He got the idea for his Eagle Scout project in eighth grade, when he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Neil sees the Belleville memorial and book as ways to make sure that local Vietnam War soldiers are not forgotten.
“I’ve seen him go from a shy, young Boy Scout to a confident young man who can speak to a large crowd about a subject that he cares deeply about,” said his scoutmaster, Rob Stock. “It’s been a neat transformation.”