New Petaluma Vietnam veterans plaque nearing completion

  • Sculptor Maureen Francis lays a damp cloth over the original clay relief of the Petaluma Vietnam Veterans Memorial, that will eventually be sand cast in bronze, at Virginia Harrison's art studio in Santa Rosa, Calif., on March 23, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Artists are finishing work on a new bronze Vietnam veterans' memorial plaque that will replace the original 1969 monument that was stolen in December from Petaluma's Walnut Park.

A group of Petaluma youths who watched their friends and brothers go off to Vietnam and never return organized the community 44 years ago to create and install a plaque with the names of those killed.

Sometime in December, someone made off with the approximately 2-foot-by-2-foot plaque, apparently for its scrap metal value. It was pried or cut from a stone and concrete pedestal near the park's gazebo.

The theft rocked veterans, families of the soldiers killed in the war and members of a community that honors its veterans each year with the largest Veterans Day parade north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

In replacing the memorial, organizers strived to retain the spirit of the original design, created by renowned local artist Rosa Estebanez.

The new plaque mirrors the first, as Maureen Francis -- a student of Estebanez -- sculpted a relief of the map of Vietnam with a pair of hands in prayer over it. Below, bronze sculptor Virginia Harrison will place medallions of the military branches and the raised names of 15 Petalumans who died fighting.

The pieces will be assembled and next week will be sent to a foundry in San Rafael where the bronze casting will be completed.

Securing the bronze against theft was key in planning the new design, said organizer Ed Hergert, who played a vital role in the 1969 memorial effort.

The half-inch thick plaque will be inset in a 4-inch thick granite casing, then attached through the granite into the concrete pedestal. Black slate will be installed around the base, which will be several inches higher than the original.

Francis, a member of the Petaluma Valley Rotary Club, was already active in her service club's drive to revamp the landscaping around the gazebo when the plaque was stolen.

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