Greene Supervisors applaud Ruckersville Vietnam War Foundation & Museum

By Susan Gibbs

Craig LaMountain of Ruckersville fought for this country’s cause in Vietnam, as did his brother and his cousin.

A photograph taken during the Vietnam War

“I lost my brother in Vietnam. My cousin came back from Vietnam and died of Agent Orange poisoning,” LaMountain told Greene County supervisors at their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, March 27. He made the statement shortly before supervisors unanimously approved a special use permit for the operation of LaMountain’s Vietnam War Foundation & Museum on the 30 acres he owns at 6265 Spring Hill Road.

According to historical reports, the Vietnam War divided America. Hundreds of thousands railed against it: demonstrations were sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent, but they were always publicized. Returning soldiers were not given welcoming parades. They were shunned, and denigrated. The War ended in 1975, but it was not until after the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC that  American culture acknowledged their sacrifice and suffering, and conceded that most had been good soldiers in a bad war.

LaMountain told supervisors he had begun his tribute with “slide shows in schools, and then I bought a jeep” and that now it is what it is – a remembrance of that era in American history, complete with aircraft, armored personnel carriers, trucks, weapons and other equipment he has acquired through the Federal Surplus Supply Program, and had restored.

According to the Foundation’s Web site, located at www.vietnamwarfoundation.org, veterans who have experience with the equipment guide volunteers in restoring it to original specifications and near-operable condition. Once restored, the equipment is displayed in settings that are realistic to the time and place of  use.

In addition, memorabilia acquired during tours of duty has been donated by veterans, along with some, such as Vietcong artifacts, that have been collected from Vietnam.

“It has grown tremendously,” LaMountain told supervisors March 27. “People come from all over. Home schoolers come from as far away as Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Hampton Bays. It’s growing like I can’t believe.”

According to county documents, the Museum has also drawn: members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Wounded Warriors and Vietnam Veterans of America; public and private school tours; local historical societies; retirement community groups; automobile and motorcycle clubs; politicians in support of veterans; and many individuals.

It is also attracting more and more volunteers. For example, some from the National Ground Intelligence Center worked with LaMountain on the Memorial Walk, which consists of bricks purchased and engraved to honor a veteran or a loved one. Murals depict Huey helicopters flying over the terrain, men in camp, and nurses, who, like the men who served in battle, were mostly young and inexperienced in combat situations.

But the museum, LaMountain told supervisors, is also about the era, and includes what was happening on the home front. The hippie movement is recognized with peace symbols and a psychedelic Volkswagen Love Bug, researched and painted by students from Piedmont Virginia Community College.

“When kids come in it’s not just about the war,” LaMountain told the Board. “We start outside with the Volkswagen bus. I show them what the home front was and what we were used to and then I pull out my draft notice and show them what life was like after I got my draft notice. We start with basic training, right down to the tour of duty in Vietnam.”

On March 27 Greene County Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda told the Board: “We have had no complaints. We get a lot of comments and compliments. We’re told this collection is better than what is in (Washington) DC museums. It’s hands-on; it’s not behind glass. It’s a special thing.”

It also, Svoboda continued, is supported by the county’s comprehensive plan and brings tourist traffic to the county. “We are working with the Economic Development Authority to try to find a more visible location on a primary corridor,” he concluded.

While the Foundation offers the general public and school children with an opportunity to hear veterans share their story, it also offers those veterans an opportunity to revisit their assignments in Vietnam, and to deal with memories that have been bothering them.

There is no admission charge, and while tours can be arranged by appointment, the museum is open to the general public seven days per year: on Memorial Day; July 4th; Veterans’ Day; and on the birthdays of the United States Army, the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and the United States Marine Corps.

The Foundation also participates in parades and has provided static displays for veterans’ occasions throughout the Commonwealth.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting only Stanardsville Volunteer Fire Department President Doug Clay spoke. He told supervisors that he had been too young to serve, but that what LaMountain is doing “is great. I hope you pass it.”

Supervisor Jim Frydl opened the discussion between Board members.

“I’ve been there several times,” Frydl said. “This is an honor to (LaMountain’s) brother, his cousin, and all the people who served in Vietnam. My father served in Vietnam, my father-in-law served in Vietnam. They’ve been by the museum. It’s a wonderful experience; a great honor. It’s a great asset to Greene County.”

Scouts salute during a visit to the Museum

Supervisor Eddie Deane agreed. “It’s a great asset to our community,” he said, and asked why there were only seven public functions per year. LaMountain explained that if the museum was open to the general public more often, he would have to staff it.

“But if (it is relocated to a major thoroughfare) I know it would draw a lot of people from all over,” LaMountain replied. “I’ve been told we have the largest Vietnam War collection in the country.”

Supervisor David Cox said: “I wish we had more people like you doing things for the community. It’s helping our economy.”

Board Vice-chairman Davis Lamb said he concurred with Frydl’s remarks and added, “I think it’s a great thing. Now people will know more about what went on in Vietnam.”

Board Chairman Buggs Peyton said he fully supported the request, and Svoboda suggested extending the days in the special use permit so LaMountain would not be restricted.

La Mountain informed the Board that the museum is fully supported by both NBC 29 and the Charlottesville Daily Progress. “So publicity might increase,” he said. “Yes, it would be nice to have a couple of extra days. It is growing so fast.”

The Board agreed that the seven days specified in the permit should be extended to 10, and Frydl made a motion that the request for a special use permit, with the change, be approved. Deane seconded it.

 Editor’s note: According to the Foundation Web site, 2,709,918 Americans served in uniform in Vietnam during the official Vietnam Era from August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975, representing 9.7% of their generation. Ninety-seven percent of Vietnam veterans were honorably discharged, and 91% of Vietnam veterans are glad they served.

Posted in: News

Leave a Reply