Kevin Howell wants to welcome thousands of Vietnam veterans to Fort Wayne on a Saturday next fall, but he needs another $122,500 to make it happen.
Howell, best known here as a member of the Allen County Council, planned a news conference Wednesday to announce a $2,500 “challenge grant” from Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne. That's a first step, a challenge, for nine other businesses or individuals to contribute a total of $25,000 by July 4, he said. Then the fundraising moves into high gear – he needs to raise another $100,000 by Oct. 5, when he's reserved Expo IV and the Arena at Memorial Coliseum as a gathering site for the Vietnam Veterans of America National Homecoming.
Much of the scheduling of the day's activities is still in flux, but Howell said that he hopes to begin the events with a parade from Lawton Park to the Allen County Courthouse – a old-fashioned Hoosier parade, as he described it. “Other people might think it's corny – on the East or West coasts – but I don't care,” Howell said. When the vets return to the Coliseum after the parade, he wants to have entertainment ready as well as education, potentially lifesaving education.
He intends to organize a health fair during events at the Coliseum Oct. 5. Throughout the day, he wants to have the kind of health screenings and information sessions that let casual visitors glean insights into their health. But he has bigger plans for the health fair. He wants to have psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, even dentists in place at the Coliseum “to treat any veteran who walks in off the street,” he said. For the families of Vietnam veterans, he wants experts available to help those people learn where they are due any benefits because of a loved one's military service.
Howell was a Marine from 1983-1993, years after American military forces left Vietnam. But he learned recently that his brother Laurence Howell, who pretended that he was deployed in Germany when he was in the Army, actually had been a part of the secret war in Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
No information about this national homecoming is posted on the Coliseum's website, but Coliseum officials verified that there is a signed agreement reserving the arena and Expo IV on Oct. 5.