Despite having to battle heavily gusting winds and chilly temperatures, workers on Tuesday began installing the black granite panels that will replace the faded metal Vietnam Memorial Wall at Pittsburg State University’s Veterans’ Memorial Amphitheater. After months of preparation and anticipation, the panels are slated to be installed and ready for Veterans’ Day ceremonies on Thursday, Nov. 11.

Despite having to battle heavily gusting winds and chilly temperatures, workers on Tuesday began installing the black granite panels that will replace the faded metal Vietnam Memorial Wall at Pittsburg State University’s Veterans’ Memorial Amphitheater. After months of preparation and anticipation, the panels are slated to be installed and ready for Veterans’ Day ceremonies on Thursday, Nov. 11.

The project has been a long work in progress. Pitt State grounds crews two weeks ago began removing the original steel panels, which had faded from constant exposure to weather and sunlight. Each year 15 to 20 of the most badly-damaged panels were removed and repainted. But the efforts proved to be futile.

“They were never meant to be outside 24/7,” said Vice President for University Advancement Brad Hodson, who oversees the memorial. “The sun just eats the paint away.”

Eventually, veterans and their families began to voice their concern about the state of the memorial. So Hodson began raising money to replace the panels once and for all. His efforts paid off, and private donors ponied up $250,000 to pay for the replacement project.

“As the person who’s had to have some very uncomfortable conversations with vets and their families, it’s great that we can finally put the panels in place,” Hodson said. “I hope it will enhance the faith that they have in the university to sustain their memory in a very meaningful way. Those names are going to be there for us to see forever.”

The memorial is an exact replica of the original monument in Washington, D.C. One of only three such reproductions, it was part of a half-scale traveling exhibit donated by artist John Devitt.

The polished granite panels were quarried, cut and polished in India before being shipped to Kansas, said SI Monuments regional manager Mike Forbes.

“They will require no maintenance other than periodic cleaning,” Forbes said.

The largest slabs measure 70 inches by 41 inches, are 1 1/4 inches thick and weigh a whopping 1,200 pounds each. The smallest panels are still a handful for the installation crews, at about 600 pounds apiece. The names of the soldiers on the memorial are laser-etched into the granite to exact scale at Ada Custom Memorials in Ada, Okla. Forbes said laser etching is preferable to the more traditional practice of sand-blasting.

“You can get greater detail in a smaller area,” he said.

The panels are anchored to their concrete backdrop with stainless steel fixtures, and metal slats fit into small grooves cut into the bottom, sides and top of each panel to help with alignment.

Forbes, a Pitt State graduate, said the opportunity to work on the project means more than just a paycheck.

“We’ve been involved with several veterans memorial projects over the years, and this is the closest to home,” he said. “The vets that visit tell us their stories, and they’re different but they tell the same story of sacrifice for their country. I’m just glad we get the opportunity to produce projects that are seen and will be seen for years to come.”

The monument also is a living one. There still are soldiers whose whereabouts are unknown, and each year new names are added to the memorial in Washington as the fates of missing soldiers are confirmed. When the new granite panels are introduced on Veterans’ Day in November an additional 65 names will have been added, bringing to total from 58,195 to 58,260.

As more names are released by the government, the university will add those names to their appropriate place on the wall.

“The names can be etched on the spot,” Forbes said.

The new memorial will be unveiled and dedicated at a special Veterans Day ceremony at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11.