Posted Nov 11 2010 2:50PM
Veterans Day is more than a holiday for San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, just as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is more than a memorial to those lives lost during the Vietnam War.
Both are personal reminders.
Holt served and nearly died in Vietnam more than 40 years ago. An infantryman during the Tet Offensive, Holt fought alongside many soldiers who became lifelong friends and many others who never returned home.
Their names are forever entombed in black granite on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Holt is part of a massive effort to place stories, photos and memories behind those 58,267 names on The Wall.
"Those of us who served in Vietnam will never forget the faces of our brothers who fought and died beside us," Holt said. "I strongly believe we should put faces with the names on the granite wall. We also need to honor the values of military service and its importance to this great democracy of ours."
An initiative is under way to build an education and visitor center adjacent to The Wall on the National Mall in Washington. Holt has pledged $1 million toward the $85 million project that promises to give context and provide a connection to each of those U.S. Armed Forces service members who are enshrined on the Memorial. Approximately $25 million has been raised.
Holt served his country with distinction, though as a result of less-than-noble circumstances. Given the choice by a Corpus Christi judge of joining the Army or going to jail -- a teenage Holt had been arrested for leading police on a drunken chase throughout South Texas -- the heir to the Caterpillar tractor fortune enlisted.
Holt saw heavy combat during his tour. A fragmented bullet was lodged in his neck during the spring of 1968 after volunteering with two other soldiers to save fellow servicemen from a burning tank. Holt was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart for his valor.
He returned to Vietnam earlier this year for the first time in 42 years, along with Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the advisory board chairman for the education center campaign. Holt, his wife and daughter and 11 other veterans made the trip that featured a reception with Vietnamese veterans in Saigon.
"They call it the 'American war' over there," Holt told the Washington Post back in July. "Some of the men were amputees. Some were wounded in other ways. Look, we were invading their country. At the end, we were talking soldier to soldier, two guys who had gone through similar experiences, thankful we were survivors and still sad many of our friends weren't."
Holt has challenged Texans to raise funds for the center, promising to match up to $1 million in contributions from the Lone Star State. Information about the project is available at: http://www.buildthecenter.org.
Others involved in the project include retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, the honorary chairman for the campaign, and national spokesman Tom Selleck. Former President George Bush, a number of governors and business leaders are also part of the initiative.
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