Veterans urge improved access to Dogwood Vietnam Memorial

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The Dogwood Vietnam Memorial in McIntire Park was the first Vietnam War memorial in the country, and some veterans are having a hard time getting there.

“These guys fought for the freedom of Vietnam. Now, we should have the freedom to get to this memorial to give them the respect that they are due," said Jim Carpenter, an Army veteran who has been leading the charge to improve access to the memorial.

Carpenter’s childhood friend, James Marion Kardos, was killed in Vietnam and is one of the 28 men remembered on plaques at the memorial.

McIntire Park has undergone a multi-million dollar overhaul in the past couple of years, including the new YMCA and skate park, but that renovation didn't include the addition of parking near the memorial.

Instead, visitors to the memorial must park across Route 250 at a parking area in front of the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad station.

As Carpenter illustrated on a recent morning, that means a lengthy walk, crossing seven lanes of traffic and climbing a winding hill up to the memorial.

In all, it takes Carpenter 11 minutes to get there, and he doesn't have mobility issues.

That's not the case for Korean War veteran Jim Shisler, one of three men who founded the memorial 54 years ago. Shisler now uses a cane and has difficulty walking long distances.

“It didn't make much difference in 1965 when I built the memorial because I was a young man,” Shisler said. “But now it takes me about eight or 10 minutes to get up this ramp here and about 13 minutes from where we have to park across the street."

Vietnam veteran Bruce Eades also wants better access to the memorial, which helped him recover from the trauma of the war.

"I threw myself into my work, but this allowed me to actually focus on healing myself from within,” he said.

Eades, who is the president of the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial Foundation, praises the city for protecting the memorial during the park redesign and for maintaining it well.

But he says the city denied the foundation's request for a road to the memorial and parking nearby, saying it didn't want cars on the east side of the park.

"I think the solution for the parking is something the city's going to have to work a little more on," Eades said.

City spokesperson Brian Wheeler says the city is aware of the concerns and is considering options for improving access. But he says a combination of safety issues and the potentially exorbitant expense make a new road with parking unlikely.

Instead, Wheeler said the city is considering better signage to help people find current parking and possibly offering on-call golf cart transportation from the parking area to the memorial through the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Carpenter says he hopes a better solution can be found, for the sake of remembering those who are memorialized at the site.

“James Marion Kardos’ 90-year-old mom can’t get up here because it’s too dangerous,” Carpenter said. “His uncle, 88 years old, can’t get up here. This is not right.”

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