Plaque's theft has a happy ending

Veterans of any era have not been forgotten by Petalumans. The holiday theft of a bronze plaque in Walnut Park commemorating 15 local soldiers who died in Vietnam, presumably stolen for the value of its metal, struck a cord with patriotic Petalumans who rallied to make sure the fallen soldiers were not forgotten.

The war in Vietnam may not have been one of the most popular in U.S. history, but the community honors the sacrifices of those who served. A shiny new plaque commemorating Petaluma's fallen Vietnam soldiers was installed last week, 44 years to the day after the original was first placed there at the behest of a group of friends of the soldiers.

In a happy irony, the theft of the plaque, while appalling, has resulted in drawing even more attention to the veterans' sacrifice, while significantly improving the park where the plaque once stood.

Upon learning of the theft, many local veterans were justifiably outraged, as were many others in a community where military service is widely valued and honored. Once the news got out, Petalumans began to take action.

Their efforts resulted in a large outpouring of public support, with financial contributions coming in to help replace the plaque. More than $12,000 was donated by the Petaluma Historical Museum, the Petaluma firefighters' association, local veterans groups and many other local businesses and organizations.

The Rotary Club of Petaluma Valley, which was already planning to install a park bench to honor former club member Ron Flagg, a highly decorated veteran who died last year, also stepped up to plant new landscaping around the gazebo with plants that will flower in red, white and blue. This spring, club members convened to repaint the 27 benches which surround the gazebo with the help of O'Brien Painting.

The club also by partnered with the Petaluma Service alliance, which is now talking with the city about paving the deteriorated pathways in the park to make them more accessible to persons in wheelchairs, using walkers or pushing strollers, and improvement plans keep expanding. A pole is planned with the word "Peace" inscribed in six different languages.

It's remarkable how a negative event such as the plaque's theft can result in so much good coming forward. Once again, Petalumans have demonstrated their resiliency, while showing they will not forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation.

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