State News

NC Persian Gulf War exhibit to be created

Posted January 15, 2016 2:32 p.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2016 8:01 p.m. EST

— North Carolina is going to use $100,000 donated by the Kuwaiti government two decades ago to create a traveling exhibit honoring the state's Persian Gulf War veterans and those who died in the conflict, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Friday.

The announcement came after years of false starts to create some kind of lasting monument following the donation and the efforts of a brother of a North Carolina resident killed in the war.

The exhibit, to be set up by the state Museum of History, could be completed by the end of this summer, said Ilario Pantano, an assistant secretary in the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

"This money has just sat off on the side," McCrory said at a ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the start of the war. "Well, now we're going to start spending it so the next generation will not forget what happened and what sacrifices were made."

McCrory said 75,000 service members from North Carolina installations – more than any other state – served during the war. He read the names of 17 North Carolina residents who died in the war from a proclamation recognizing the anniversary.

Operation Desert Storm began Jan. 17, 1991, when a U.S.-led coalition began aerial bombings of Iraqi targets, which ultimately led to a ground campaign and the liberation of Kuwait. Iraq had invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

In 1996, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. presented the $100,000 gift at an event attended by U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and Gov. Jim Hunt. By then, members of a state Gulf War commission had been named and a site for a permanent memorial in Raleigh located.

The donation and project came about in part due to Michael Chapman, the brother of Staff Sgt. Christopher Chapman, who died in a helicopter crash in the final week of the conflict. Chapman was named to the commission.

Pantano, himself a Persian Gulf War and Iraq War veteran, said the Kuwaiti money had been considered seed money for a permanent granite or marble memorial on the Halifax Mall just north of the Legislative Building. But the plans got delayed, and no additional funds were raised to complete such a project, he said.

The project was revived in the early 2000s, but stalled again. Michael Chapman quit the planning commission in frustration in 2008.

Pantano said the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years may have made people wait before paying tribute to those in the Persian Gulf War, which ended within weeks with an overwhelming victory.

The money "had been forgotten basically" until Pantano said Michael Chapman reminded the McCrory administration, which took office in 2013, of the funds.

Thomas Chapman was born four years after his uncle died in the war. Although he never knew Chris Chapman, he said he's thankful for his sacrifice.

"I'm so, so thankful for the service that he gave and what he did for our country," Thomas Chapman said. "The fact that so much of an effort goes to remembering veterans like him – all 17 of them – and all the other ones that fought in the Gulf War, that just means everything."

Pantano said he believes a more permanent memorial could one day be erected for all North Carolina service members who served in the Middle East wars over the past quarter-century.

Veterans cemeteries to be upgraded

McCrory said he also wants his administration to find money to repair the four veterans cemeteries in North Carolina.

"Apparently, a lot of our cemeteries have been in bad shape for decades, and this is inexcusable," he said.

The governor recounted the story of Marine Cpl. Mike Boffo, who died in August after a battle with leukemia. When his doctors told him his time was growing short, he went to a veterans cemetery in Jacksonville to reserve a plot.

"When he returned home, I am told, with tears in his eyes, that he told his mom he can't be buried there. It's a mess," McCrory said.

Boffo is now buried in Virginia.

Anne Boffo said the governor's announcement "warms my heart."

"I know my son is very pleased," she said.