Aiken City Council votes to relocate veteran memorial

Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - We’ve seen a lot of controversy lately with the removal of monuments. Particularly Confederate monuments. But there’s a monument of a different kind in Aiken looking for a new home.

Veterans are calling for the relocation of the Vietnam Memorial near the heart of downtown Aiken. They want to make sure it’s in a spot where it can be better cared for. But they’re learning the process is a lot more than they bargained for.

The Aiken City Council voted yes to support the memorial’s relocation. But at the end of the day, it’s more of a thumbs up than permission to go ahead. The South Carolina House and Senate get the final say but veterans say getting them to even vote on it has been harder than you’d think.

Linda Caldwell, treasurer of the Aiken County Veterans Council, points out all the names of those lost with the very hands she used to treat fallen soldiers in Vietnam.

“People thanking you for your service and welcoming you back that didn’t happen to us and we were sort of the neglected veterans,” said Caldwell.

It’s why she says memorials like this one are so critical to pay respects.

“It’s in a very busy street as you can see. There are no crosswalks, it’s dangerous,” said Caldwell.

The eternal flame kept from leaking with electrical tape.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for some time. And it’s just now, I’ve gotten to a point where enough is enough,” said Lowell Koppert, Chairman of the Aiken County Veterans Council.

But lawmakers have refused to vote on a bill. State Rep. Mellissa Oremus says they’ve been told by the speaker of the House to hold off hearing any bills like this until a lawsuit against the Heritage Act which protects historic monuments is settled.

“Essentially two people in the state legislative body that are saying we know better than you, we don’t care what you want. We’re not gonna allow it to happen,” said Koppert.

But he says veterans know how to put up a good fight they certainly won’t forget.

“Come November, I’ll be reminding folks as to our plight down in Aiken and how the folks how they’re representing us and how they’re currently representing us in the statehouse,” said Koppert.

Every state senator and house member we spoke to tells us they would vote yes on moving the monument but say their hands are tied until the lawsuit over the Heritage Act is over.

Supporters of the lawsuit argue the removal and movement of monuments should be up to local governments and citizens. Ironic, considering the suit has put these veterans in limbo unable to do just that.

Lawmakers tell us they don’t have a timeline on when the lawsuit will be settled, for now, it’s a waiting game. But on Monday night, the Aiken City Council talked about sending a letter to Gov. Henry McMaster to get the monument moved.

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