It was 1969. Ed Hergert was one of several young Petalumans to watch schoolmates go off to war in Vietnam and never come home.

"We just felt like we needed to do something," he said.

That turned into a kitchen table discussion among several youths, including many next on the draft list, about how to honor their friends. Ultimately, they raised money and convinced the city to allow the installation of a bronze Vietnam veterans memorial plaque in Walnut Park.

The cast by the late artist Rosa Estebanez stood on its pedestal from May 30, 1969, until it was stolen sometime around Christmas, ostensibly for its scrap metal value.

The act sickened many veterans, their supporters and families of the 15 soldiers whose names were memorialized on it. Donations and pledges amounting to about $11,000 have come in to the Petaluma Museum, which is spearheading a replacement plan.

Hergert said those emotions have come flowing back since then. He said he felt the blood drain from his face when he read the newspaper headline about the theft.

On Thursday, the process of rebuilding began as more than two dozen veterans and their supporters gathered around another table and tried to decide how – again – to honor the young Petalumans killed in Vietnam.

The group agreed they want to stay true to the original design and Estebanez's artistic vision and they want it to remain in the same location, near the gazebo in the park at Petaluma Boulevard South and D Street.

They want to add an illuminated American flag and a missing-in-action/prisoner-of-war flag. Some suggested they may want to go bigger and design the next one with etched granite in addition to a bronze plaque.

Some wanted to enlarge the memorial to include other plaques honoring locals killed in Korea and the Middle East wars, maybe a bench and an interactive component.

Others killed after the original plaque was made should be added, said Navy vet Larry Finkel: "We need to make sure everyone who gave their all in Vietnam is on it."

Most important, they all agreed, is to make the next monument more secure, so it cannot be pried away or cut loose from its base.

The work will likely coincide with an already planned veterans-themed rehab project at the park by Service Alliance, a group of service clubs including Rotary, and that includes red, white and blue landscaping and a "peace pole" inscribed with the word "peace" in several languages.

"The response is overwhelming," Hergert said Thursday. "I'm so happy that Petaluma people and the community are the same as it was in 1969. People are good out there. We just don't hear enough about it."

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