This Memorial Day marks 30 years since George Paine led the construction of the Vietnam War memorial in downtown Nashville. It includes a statue, time capsule and black granite wall — similar to the national memorial — listing the names of 1,300 Tennessee soldiers killed in Southeast Asia.
After serving as a platoon leader in Vietnam, Paine wanted to combat negative feelings toward the war by having people focus on the sacrifices of ordinary Tennesseans. He and other members of the Tennessee Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program raised more than $100,000 for the project that would be built on War Memorial Plaza.
“We said we were going to use nothing but contributions and no state funds, but the state — being very pro-veteran — said they weren’t going to let us have the place unless they could contribute too, so we acquiesced," he said.
The memorial sprung out of President Reagan’s national initiative to start volunteer organizations to help Vietnam veterans.
Paine says the monument reminds him that while the war was controversial, it felt more like a national effort than today’s conflicts. He was drafted after finishing law school.
“Everybody was invested in the country," Paine said. "Everybody connected with people from all over the country to do something and it was the military was that kind of adhesive that did that. Today very few of us know people who are in the military and we need to be aware of the critical job they’re doing in this country and putting their lives at risk.”
The statue of three soldiers represents each of Tennessee’s geographic divisions. It’s also among the first sculptures of an African-American on state property in Tennessee.