July 11, 2002
Joe Moss has been a master stone carver for the past 36 years and he doesn't make mistakes. He learned not to make mistakes in the U. S. Navy years ago as an underwater demolition team frogman, where the first mistake is apt to be the last.
"You have to understand that in some businesses you can't make mistakes. This is one of them" he said to Mike Faber, who has been the driving force to build Alexandria's Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza project.
Moss used a pneumatic chisel to carve 66 identical five pointed stars, six inches in diameter on limestone benches for a Memorial Plaza that honors 66 Vietnam heroes who entered military service from Alexandria, but didn't return from combat in Southeast Asia. The plaza was designed and created in bronze and stonework by Toby Mendez, a sculptor who has a growing list of public monuments and bronze castings to his credit. It was dedicated at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center in Del Ray on July 6.
A LARGE STATUE of U. S. Army Captain Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace holding hands with two smiling Vietnamese children is the centerpiece of the Memorial. Versace worked with Vietnamese orphans when he wasn't on combat patrols. Rocky had plans to return to Vietnam after Army service to become a Maryknoll missionary priest, working with villagers to promote education and improve living standards, free of communist terror.
The expressions of joy and hope by these children and Rocky in Mendez's statue symbolize what could have been achieved in that country had freedom triumphed over communist domination.
President George W. Bush has approved Captain Versace for posthumous award of the Medal of Honor for his heroism while he was a captive of the Viet Cong from Oct. 29, 1963, until Sept. 26, 1965. When the Viet Cong couldn't break Versace's stubborn resistance, they executed him. The last time any of his fellow prisoners heard him, he was singing God Bless America at the top of his lungs from a bamboo isolation cage.
Moss's stars have been burnished smooth and a layer of gold foil has been applied to each one, which will be above each of the 65 names etched on limestone benches surrounding Captain Versace's statue. The symbolism with the placement of the benches in a circle is the bonding between the first casualty in 1963, and the last one in 1973. The benches also will make it easy to family and visitors to touch names, and contemplate these fallen heroes.
EACH NAME has a story of dedication and service to tell. Army Corporal Robert William Cupp was killed in action in South Vietnam on June 6, 1968, by an enemy booby trap. He was buried in his family's plot at Mount Comfort Cemetery on June 17, 1968, on his 21st birthday. His mother Emogene Cupp. is a past National President of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., and currently serves on that organization's National Board. She has plans to visit Vietnam in August.
Army Corporal Herman Leroy Judy, Jr. was killed in action in South Vietnam on May 29, 1969, a day before his first wedding anniversary. His wife June, remarried and started a new life for herself. His mother, Hilda Hilton Judy is 91, and lives in the Baptist Retirement Home in Culpeper. Corporal Judy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His older sister, Donna Lathe, has been searching the Internet for information on the other men who will be honored.
War memorials make Americans remember Plato's admonition that "only the dead have known the end of war."