By The Bunny
Last Friday marked National POW-MIA Day and Richmond, Virginia, commemorated the day by dedicating a new education center at the Virginia War Memorial to a former Vietnam POW and his wife, Cdr. Paul Galanti, USN (Ret.), and his wife Phyllis. The POW and larger veteransâ€™ communities are well familiar with the Galantis, as Commander Galanti now serves as the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs. But the coupleâ€™sÂ service and activismÂ started back during his captivity: he was notorious for raising a certain finger in protest to his North Vietnamese captors in a photo shoot for Life magazine and she was tireless in her very public campaign to win his release. (As Henry Kissinger told Paul at the White House dinner thrown for the returning POWs, â€śYour vife, Paul, she caused me so much trouble.â€ť)Â
But many people do not realize how forceful Paul and Phyllis have been as community advocates in their adopted home of Richmond, particularly in the revitalization of the Virginia War Memorial. This outdoor memorial pays tribute to all Virginians who lost their lives in war. Built after World War II, it suffered benign neglect for many years until a group of concerned citizens in the Richmond community, including the Galantis, led an effort to restore it. It soon became a popular venue for hosting military and veterans events and commemorations. Numerous educational programs for teachers, students and the general public soon followed. But the small, antiquated multi-purpose room and small office space that stood adjacent to the memorial was not sufficient to meet the growing need for space.Â
Through a public-private partnership (a combination of state money and private donations from individuals and corporations), the campaign to build the Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center got underway and the center broke ground in 2007. This weekend, the center opened to the public for the first time â€“ with a black tie gala headlined by Gov. Robert McDonnell and Ross Perot, and a weekend of concerts, childrenâ€™s activities and facility tours. The facility adds an additional 18,000 square feet of space to the Memorial and boasts new exhibit and special event space, plus a conference room, a theater, a research library, and an 800-seat outdoor amphitheater.