Local Veterans Gaining Traction to Name Bridge After Fallen Hero
SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – A passionate effort led by a group of local veterans is underway to honor and remember Placerville’s Paul Haining, who is believed to be San Miguel County’s lone fatality of the Vietnam War.
A member of the Telluride High School graduating class of 1967, Army Private First Class Haining was killed in Vietnam on July 23, 1970, at the age of 20. Little is known about the circumstances of Haining’s death. He is buried in the Placerville Cemetery. What is known is that he received two Bronze Star Medals and an Air Medal for his service.
A group of veterans, including San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, Ron Kanter and Richard Arnold, along with the help of others, are working to honor Haining’s service and ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War by creating brass portrait of him, and ultimately, naming the new Leopard Creek bridge in Placerville in his honor, as well.
Masters first learned about Haining several years ago, while visiting the Placerville Cemetery on Veterans Day with his son.
“I found a grave marker that had Paul’s name on it,” Masters said. “All it said was, ‘Private Paul Haining, Republic of Vietnam.’ I had never heard of what happened to him or where he was. I knew his parents but I didn’t realize they had a son who died in Vietnam.”
On a trip to Washington, D.C., Masters visited the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial and decided to look up Haining’s name (his name is on The Wall and is casualty number 51,981) and eventually took a rubbing of his name from the wall.
“I had that in my desk drawer for years,” Masters said. “I started mentioning him to other veterans, and they felt we ought to do something for him. He’s a forgotten young man – our only casualty from San Miguel County during Vietnam. I thought it was important that we recognize that.”
Masters began talking with Kanter and Arnold – both veterans of Vietnam – on what should be done to memorialize Haining’s service. At first, Kanter said, they began collecting donations to build some sort of memorial for Haining and eventually they brought enough attention to him and a Department of Defense grave marker was erected at Haining’s resting place in Placerville.
More recently, since the bridge in Placerville is being reconstructed, it was thought that perhaps the new bridge could be named after Haining. With work being done at the local and state level, it seems that type of memorialization of Haining’s service will come to fruition.
“This is important,” State District 58 Representative Don Coram said. “The man gave his life for his country. We have made the arrangements as to how this will be done by passing a resolution on the second day of the next session. I think it is just the right thing to do, and I think it’s an outstanding thing the community has done. My hat’s off to them for stepping forward.”
Kanter said he feels a personal connection with Haining as they were both young when they went to serve their country.
“He paid the ultimate price and nobody knows about it,” Kanter said. “People need to know that somebody from San Miguel County served his time and paid for it. Our efforts to raise money have nothing to do with politics or the righteousness or the bullshit-ness of the war or any war. It is to recognize that he served. Several of us feel this is overdue.”
Arnold, a local sculptor, has been working on a bronze portrait of Haining (where it will be displayed has yet to be decided) and he is also excited that the movement toward naming the bridge after Haining is gaining traction.
“We need to do this because he is not here anymore,” Arnold said, who served in Vietnam as a military policeman charged with body identification. “I had to handle a few young kids in black body bags. That was tough when you are just 22 or 23 yourself. You look down at this body and you ask yourself, ‘Why is he dead?’ I want to do this because the kid is not here anymore and we need to not forget him.”
Arnold said the bronze portrait of Haining will be presented at Friday’s Veterans Day prime rib dinner at the Swede Finn Hall in Telluride hosted by the Telluride American Legion Austin A. Hiett Post #12 and the Telluride Elks Lodge Post #692. (Hiett, a San Miguel County resident, was killed in World War I on Aug. 14, 1918.) The celebration will begin at 6 p.m.
American Legion Post Commander Brian Ahern said Rep. Coram will be on hand that evening to discuss the renaming of the bridge.
“We are looking forward to honoring all the men and women who have served,” Ahern said. Everyone is welcome, and Veterans will eat for free at the dinner. Those who wish to attend the dinner must RSVP to Ahern at 970/708-1596.