Sometimes, the kids lead and the adults follow.
Sometimes, they see things with a pair of fresh eyes that the weary eyes of age miss. This is one of those times.
The year was 1972 and nobody wanted to talk about Vietnam.
Our boys came home from war to a country that turned a cold shoulder to them, as if it was their fault we had gotten into this seemingly never-ending quagmire that took the lives of more than 15,000 young, American men, and left 109,000 more wounded, many severely.
Only later would the responsibility fall where it should — on the political and military leaders making flawed decisions, not the troops paying the consequences for them.
Dennis DeYoung was 8 in 1972, and he saw it. Bob Luszczak was 11, and Janet Petty, 14. They saw it, too. All the members of the Granada Hillbillies 4-H Club saw what so many adults couldn’t or wouldn’t.
It wasn’t right to turn our backs on our Vietnam vets as they came home. But, what could they do? They were only kids.
The San Fernando Valley was still a hub of farming and agricultural activity, and 4-H clubs — head, heart, hands and health — were popular with kids whose parents enjoyed getting their hands dirty working the soil with their children and raising livestock to show at the Devonshire Downs Fairgrounds in Northridge.
It was a tradition passed on until it wasn’t anymore. The old San Fernando Valley ways were slowly dying.
The kids in the 4-H club were looking for a community service project that year, and their eyes fell on a sliver of land — a small traffic island covered in weeds — an eyesore in the middle of Granada Hills.
“We decided to make a Vietnam memorial on that traffic island for the 25 young men from Granada Hills who died fighting in ‘Nam,” said DeYoung, who went on to become a financial planner and stockbroker.
“We washed a lot of cars that year to raise the funds,” added Petty, who became an elementary school teacher. “Our parents supported and helped us build it.”
Luszczak, who later became a popular dentist in town, wrote letters to all the different state capitols asking for a rock from each state that would be incorporated into the foundation of the veteran’s monument.
At its base they also buried a time capsule filled with items long forgotten now by the boys and girls of the Granada Hillbillies, many of whom will return this Veterans Day to open the capsule 51 years after they buried it.
COVID delayed it a year.
Those kids moved on after their 4-H club dissolved, and left their Vietnam memorial to the adults, who picked up their mantle and made it even more beautiful and meaningful.
The Granada Hills Rotary Club, VFW Post 2323, the Kiwanis, the Granada Hill Neighborhood Council and the Chamber of Commerce teamed with city government and various donors to landscape and build the pergola, statue, and many other improvements at the Veteran’s Park.
But, it was the 4-H kids who planted the seed.
The 4-H kids who could see what so many adults couldn’t back in 1972. You don’t turn your back on the men and women wearing the uniform of this country.
You welcome them home and honor the fallen.
Another time capsule will replace the one buried 51 years ago. It will be opened in 50 years either on Memorial Day or Veterans Day 2073.
None of the 4-H kids from the old time capsule figure they’ll still be around to attend so they’ve reached out to the kids at Granada Hills Elementary School to write a note about themselves, and put it in the new capsule, along with other mementos they want to add.
Local officials and citizens will be adding their own items, but 50 years is pushing the envelope for many adults to still be around when it gets opened again half a century from now.
Kids planted the seed in 1972, kids today should keep the tradition alive in 2073.
If you want to stop by with something to add and meet the 4-H kids who are in their late 50s and early 60s now, the old time capsule will be opened at 11 a.m. Nov 11, on the “Welcome to Granada Hills,” Vietnam Memorial traffic island at Chatsworth Street and Zelzah Avenue.
“We were just children trying to do something good for our community,” Janet Perry said.
They did better than good. They did great.
Sometimes, you just have to let the kids lead and the adults will follow.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at [email protected].