A special tribute to local men who died in Vietnam

ALPENA – Northeast Michigan war veterans have planned numerous events during the Memorial Day weekend, including parades, speakers and visits to cemeteries in area cities and townships. But none will be perhaps as tear-stained as the dedication of a Vietnam veteran’s memorial on a tiny triangle of land at Washington and Second avenues in Alpena.

At 1 p.m. Monday, a crowd will gather to honor 15 Alpena area men, who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam Conflict, organizer Larry Marchlewski Sr. said. The men’s names are cast in a bronze plate that Crow Memorials owner Marty Rifenbark set into a carved granite stone.

“There are overtones with the Vietnam veterans,” said Rifenbark, who donated everything. “We see it all the time. There was a lot of controversy about the war and they didn’t receive the welcome back.”

Rifenbark carved the speckled gray and white Barre granite himself, cutting stars into the decorative border, before setting the metal plate in place.

The plaque has a complicated history, several veterans and residents said. In1995, it was donated and displayed at the Besser Museum as part of a traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall replica. A local businessman, who organized the event, but never served in the war, put his name at the top of the plaque. Below in smaller type were the names of the soldiers.

“Some people liked it. Some people didn’t like it,” said Wayne Trapp, another former Marine who was in Vietnam earlier in the conflict. The 72-year-old tends the tiny plot, mowing the grass, replacing small flags and trimming the shrubbery.

The plaque eventually dropped out of sight for 17 years. When it resurfaced in June 2012, it was handed over to the Alpena County Veterans Affairs Office. Then Marchlewski and Rifenbark got together and in November 2012, Rifenbark offered to donate his services so that the memorial could be displayed.

Marchlewski was asked to be at the park when the stone was installed, and will return Monday to be a part of the dedication.

“I’m just happy to do it,” he said. “All they wanted for me to do was be there to show them were to put it.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.