“There’s survivor’s guilt,” Ark, 65, explained recently. “Dave and I have always felt we need to speak and represent and keep alive the memories that were lost.
“We have the opportunity,” he added, “they don’t. We’re doing it for our friends who can’t do it.”
The two local Vietnam veterans are setting out to raise $12,500 needed to erect a granite monument in the shape of a giant dog tag that will be inscribed with the 62 names.
To donate, contact Ark by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 937-215-3929.
They want to place the monument in Veterans Park, near a memorial to military service dogs that was dedicated in 2011 after a similar fundraising campaign quickly raised the required $7,600.
Ark, who served in Vietnam as an Army medic, will know four names on the monument when it’s done — all were classmates at Greenon, including Bloomfield.
Bauer will know two, including the cousin whose death on Jan. 2, 1968, would lead him to Vietnam with the Army as well.
“One’s too many,” Bauer, 66, said.
This isn’t the first time the 62 Vietnam War casualties from Clark County have been memorialized.
Maine’s Towing has a display containing each man’s name that makes an annual appearance during Springfield’s Memorial Day parade.
In the 1970s, Ark and Bauer remember, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1031 put up a plywood display of names near the post office.
But, the monument they envision would be a lasting memorial.
“It would mean a lot to the survivors and the buddies,” Ark said. “People lost their friends.”
In all, 58,220 Americans died between 1959 and 1975 in Southeast Asia during a contentious war intended to stop the spread of communism.
Clark Countians have sacrificed themselves in nearly every American conflict — including four to date in the War on Terror — but for Bauer and Ark, Vietnam was their war.
They came home changed men.
Ark eventually retired from South Vienna Middle School as a teacher. Bauer struggled with alcoholism before finding his calling as an advocate for local veterans.
Vietnam was just a year of their lives, but that year would be unlike any other.
“It’s so out of the ordinary what you see, what you hear, what you smell,” Ark said.
Their planned dog tag monument will sit atop a black granite base that also features a bronze statue of a “soldiers’ cross” — a helmet and upright M16 at rest in a pair of boots.
The 62 names will be engraved in a way that makes it possible for family and friends to do a rubbing on a piece of paper, they said, akin to the National Mall’s Vietnam wall.
Both men know well the power of a permanent memorial.
Bauer, for one, finally got to see the nation’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in person while serving as a volunteer with Honor Flight.
“I went to my knees,” he said.