The first thing Eldson McGhee wants you to know about him is he a “Grady baby.” The second is that he’s a Vietnam War veteran.
McGhee, his mother’s only son, was drafted into the Vietnam War on May 11, 1967.
“My mom had a fit. So she went and got the exemption paper for me, but I wanted to go,” McGhee said. “I don’t know why because I was actually married, had a baby, and had just started my career.”
Now he along with the Atlanta chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America are leading efforts to erect a monument honoring the 208 Vietnam veterans from Fulton County that were killed in action from 1954 to 1975. The effort will be spearheaded by the group’s Sons of Atlanta 13-member task force.
In September, Atlanta approved the group’s request for a memorial and monument in Piedmont Park, according to the organization’s website. The memorial will sit in a 60-foot space in the “front lawn” area along Piedmont Avenue between 12th and 14th streets at Piedmont Park, according to a release about the monument. The monument is expected to be complete by Veterans Day in 2021.
It is estimated $1.27 million will be needed to begin the project, which includes monument design and selecting artists to work on the project, said McGhee, who is also president of the 70-plus member Atlanta chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. A documentary will also be done on the project. The group posted a request for proposals from artists which is due 5 p.m. June 30.
McGhee said the monument will be a permanent memorial dedicated to Fulton County’s Vietnam War veterans that will include their names.
There is already a memorial honoring Georgia veterans at the James “Sloppy” Floyd Veterans Memorial Building. Johns Creek also has a memorial dedicated to the veterans of the Vietnam War. In 2018, Johns Creek won a bid to become the permanent home for “The Wall That Heals,” a 250-foot replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. that toured the country for 10 years.
“It would be giving recognition to the large number of men that were taken from the city of Atlanta and sent to war,” said Coleman, who sits on the Atlanta Commission for Veteran Affairs. “For surviving veterans, it would be the continuation of still being recognized for what we did.”
McGhee said a driving force behind the monument was former President Barack Obama’s 2012 proclamation commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, in which he asked people to make amends with the treatment of those who served in the war.
“I recognized it was my generation of veterans coming back into a society where we weren’t appreciated for what we were doing,” McGhee said of the proclamation. “It made me realize there was someone seeing how we were being treated.”
McGhee served two years in the military before he was honorably discharged. Fifteen days after he got home from Vietnam, McGhee suffered his first incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, at a welcome party for him when explosives went off in a nearby area.
“When the explosives started going off, I hit the ground,” he said. “My friends thought it was funny. I didn’t find it funny.”
McGhee grabbed his gun and everyone at the party ran. His wife called the police, who took McGhee’s weapon and calmed him down. “I was arrested and put in a padded cell at Fulton County jail,” he said.
In years following that incident, McGhee continued to struggle with PTSD and was in and out of jail until 1995. Now, he hopes his story and the memorial can inspire young people.
“I thank God for my redemption and my life. So, I use it to tell my story of what combat can do to young people,” he said.
Donations for the memorial can be made on the Sons of Atlanta or the Atlanta chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America websites.
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