No retreat for Vietnam vet

Veteran wins compromise in state’s ‘removal’ of picture

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Tom Seematter, the artist of a drawing of three military figures representing Vietnam soldiers (seen on his shirt), walked onto the Missouri Capitol grounds Monday morning in an attempt to keep it displayed in the State Museum.

Vietnam veteran Tom Seematter won a kind of victory Monday in a small battle he’s been having with the state of Missouri.

More than 20 years ago, Seematter, now 66, taught himself to be an artist and eventually produced a print honoring Vietnam veterans for their service.

And one copy was hung in the Missouri Capitol Museum’s history section, after it became a part of “Project Homecoming,” intended to give those veterans the “homecoming” many had not received when they returned from a year’s service in Southeast Asia.

“In May of this year when I came to the Capitol, I wanted to get my family’s picture taken with it, with my grandkids,” Seematter told reporters and about a dozen supporters gathered Monday afternoon on the Capitol’s South Lawn. “And it was in storage. ...

“And my heart was broken. It had nothing to do with, ‘They took my picture out of the museum.’

“It was that they took the honor of those who suffered greatly, and the respect and dignity that their families deserved, and the comfort from it, out of the building.”

And that upset him.

So he planned and staged a 165-mile walk that began Oct. 11 from his home in Annapolis, Mo. — 20 miles south of Ironton in southeast Missouri — to the Capitol to call attention to the issue.

“Along the way we met wonderful Missourians,” he said. “We came across the heartland to get here, and I saw the heart of Missouri, and they support our veterans.”

Natural Resources Department spokeswoman Renee Bungart said Monday afternoon’s meeting between Seematter and museum officials went well, reaching an “acceptable agreement” with him.

Bungart said the print’s removal from the museum was for preservation, not to disrespect the Vietnam era veterans and their many contributions.

“The Missouri State Museum has nearly 50,000 historic artifacts,” she explained, “and those do rotate through the exhibits periodically — mostly to prevent them from having prolonged exposure to light, because that can damage the paper exhibits.”

Bungart said Seematter “has agreed to provide two additional prints to the Missouri State Museum (which will) allow us to rotate them while it’s on display.

“It follows our Museum policy to help preserve and protect those prints.”

She also reminded all Missourians the Museum has a Veterans Gallery on the east end of the Capitol.

“As always, with all of our exhibits,” she said, “the (Natural Resources) department and the Missouri State Museum would like to encourage any Missouri veteran to donate any artifact related to Vietnam ... or any other war ... to the Missouri Veterans Gallery, so that we can continue to rotate and show those artifacts.”

Bungart said state officials agree with Seematter that it’s important to honor and remember veterans’ service.

But the museum staff still must rotate the items it displays, so that visitors who come back a year or two later aren’t seeing all of the same things they saw the last time they came.

And, she said, only the Capitol Commission can designate any exhibit as a “permanent” display for the Capitol.

“I certainly appreciate Mr. Seematter bringing his concerns,” Bungart said.

Seematter told his supporters: “Vietnam veterans and their families and the sacrifices of Vietnam deserve honor. ... I represent citizens of Missouri who love their veterans. ...

“I represent those who endured extreme sacrifice.

“And I represent those who are not here today, whose only memory lingers.”

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