- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

Yes, America won the Vietnam War.

That is the motto of the new Vietnam War National Museum, which opened at high noon yesterday in Nelson, Neb. — population 587 — in true heartland country. The wee town is tucked away on the Little Blue River just 15 miles north of the Kansas state line.

Determination and conviction both loom large here, though.

Museum founder Kyle Kopitke considers the Vietnam War a “strategic victory” in the Cold War, and has vowed to provide a haven for those who fought in Southeast Asia.

“These vets are truly heroes and victors, for they stopped the dastardly plans of global communist expansionism to conquer the world,” Mr. Kopitke said. “They prevented the dominoes from falling.”

Mr. Kopitke also has an additional audience in mind.

“There is a place where college protesters, who now realize that they were duped by the communist propaganda machine, can come and repent and find emotional peace and an American renewal,” he added.

Plans are unfolding swiftly. The local town council only voted in mid-May to approve Mr. Kopitke’s proposal to turn a vacant school into both museum and potential tourist destination.

The old Nelson High School — a three-floored, Depression-era fortress that has not hosted an academic population for decades — will now house 3,000 artifacts from the conflict, which lasted from 1965-73.

“It’s going to be good plus for the community. Maybe we’ll get some vets coming through, some visitors,” said Mayor Arlan Drudik, who lives three blocks down the street.

“A lot of things are said about Vietnam, how we lost. Well, this museum is coming from the point of view that we didn’t lose. It’s not criticizing everything. It offers positive reflections about what America did over there,” Mr. Drudik said.

The museum has gotten some Nelson muscle. A retired sheriff’s deputy serves on the board of directors; a local accountant is tending to the museum’s books.

Scores of locals have pitched in to fix up the old school; Mr. Drudik — an electrician by trade — reworked electrical and plumbing connections, provided dry wall and donated a washer and dryer for a small curator’s apartment located in a former classroom.

Citizens and businesses around town have given everything from cold cash to curtains, cabinets to landscaping, Internet service and fencing.

Still, Mr. Kopitke must raise $40,000 to eventually buy the museum property outright. But the all-important Web site is up and running (www.vwnm.org), which could prompt outside donations.

“We’re getting started,” Mr. Drudik said. “But we’re off to a good start.”

Yesterday’s opening day festivities included a color guard, rifle squad, dedication and the playing of taps. There was to be smoked pork brisket, potato salad, baked beans and homemade cakes, courtesy of the Women’s Auxiliary.

Mr. Kopitke noted that the town was expecting Vietnam vets “from as far away as Washington state.”

Though not a Vietnam vet himself, Mr. Kopitke served in the U.S. Army from 1975-78. He also has a persistent calling to military history. In April, Mr. Kopitke opened a museum devoted to the Korean War in Oxford, about 100 miles from Nelson.

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