Veterans are a loyal bunch. That was proven quickly this week as word spread about the theft of a large bronze plaque in Petaluma that honors 15 servicemen killed in the war in Vietnam.

Within hours of publication of a news story about the theft, veterans and their supporters began raising funds to replace the memorial.

By Thursday evening, almost $9,000 had been offered toward the construction of a new, more secure monument, Petaluma Museum President Joe Noriel said.

Earlier Thursday, managers of the four Les Schwab Tire Centers in Sonoma County pooled donations and pledged $1,000, the estimated replacement cost for the mid-1970s plaque reported stolen earlier this week from its pedestal in Walnut Park.

Windsor Les Schwab manager Rob Paulson is an Army vet who served in Desert Storm. Rohnert Park manager Royce Buckley was in the Navy.

"This was just the right thing to do," Paulson said. "Being veterans, that may give us an extra tie to it. Veterans don't get appreciated enough."

The Petaluma firefighters' union has pledged several thousand dollars, potentially as much as $7,000, Noriel said.

Police had no leads in the theft, which is believed to have happened days before Christmas. Detectives believe the thief may have been after the bronze for its scrap metal value.

Petaluma Museum staff members are organizing the replacement effort, which museum coordinator Liz Cohee said started as a simple "get the word out" about the theft in hopes of finding the inch-thick, 25-inch-by-30-inch bronze tablet.

But folks started asking how they could donate money or services to build a new marker.

One veteran, a former helicopter gunner, pledged to send a $1,000 check.

"He was just so devastated," Cohee said.

Will Bomar, who owns Powell's Sweet Shoppes in Sonoma County, including one in Petaluma, pledged $500. His dad was in the service.

"You're taking something that has a lot of meaning and memories, and I take it personally," he said. "I wanted to make sure it was quickly replaced."

"We'll get it back up," said Petaluma Vietnam-era vet John Cheney, who pledged $100. The McDowell Drug Task Force, a nonprofit drug education organization run by Vietnam veteran Dick Sharke, pledged $200.

Two Santa Rosa businesses -- Merit Trophies and California Metal Spray -- have volunteered to donate their services with a replacement display.

"People are really stepping up to the plate," Cohee said. "I just got a check for $15. They're coming in all amounts."

The issue stirred up a lot of passion on the Froggy 92.9 Rob and Joss in the Morning radio show, co-host Joss VanDerHorten said.

"At first we talked about it from an emotional standpoint," she said. "Where is someone's conscience in taking something like this? . . . There were people who were sad and angry that someone would do this."

Bomar suggested some restorative justice may be in order if the thief or thieves are ever apprehended: "If they find out who did it, they should bring him to a veterans meeting and have him explain to them why he would do that."

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or