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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: Heart and soul of Vietnam veterans

October 18, 2012 | 10:00 a.m. CDT
Tom Seematter is working with Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, in an effort to find a permanent home for his artwork dedicated to Vietnam veterans in the Missouri History Museum at the state Capitol.

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America

Generally perceived as quiet and reserved, Tom Seematter is the type of person that would normally fade into the background. But the removal of his artwork from a Capitol gallery has led to a crusade to find a permanent home for the piece, and inspired legislation honoring those who served in the Vietnam War.

An Army veteran who served during Vietnam, Seematter, 68, of Annapolis, Mo., is a self-taught artist who created a drawing of the Vietnam War Memorial.  

The artwork, which was completed in 1989, “comes from the heart and soul of Vietnam veterans” Seamatter said, and represents the homecoming he and fellow servicemembers did not receive upon their return from the war. 

“I will never invest that much of myself in another picture,” he said. “It just took too big of a toll on me.”

Once completed, Seematter and fellow veteran John Harlow began an initiative called “Project Homecoming,” where copies of the artwork were presented to schools, state facilities and government buildings around the state to share the story of sacrifice made by those who served during the war.

In 1991, a copy was placed on display in the Museum of History in the Capitol, where it remained for nearly two decades. However, during a trip to Jefferson City in early 2010, Seematter discovered it had been removed and placed in storage.

“It was really a slap in the face to all Vietnam vets,” Seematter said.

“This was supposed to be a long-standing expression of appreciation and an overdue welcome home for our veterans.”

Seematter notes the reasons expressed by the curator of the museum for the removal “falls under the umbrella of protocol and procedure.”

Outraged by the museum’s actions, Seematter embarked upon a 163-mile walk in October 2010 from Annapolis to Jefferson City to protest the artwork’s removal and to raise support for finding it a permanent home.

The veteran’s efforts caught the attention of Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, who has been communicating with museum staff in an effort to make the artwork a permanent fixture in the museum.

“I wrote a letter asking that the artwork be placed on permanent display,” Fitzwater said. “I received a response stating that if they allowed this piece to be permanently displayed, then they would have to grant all similar requests.

“I’m not giving up on this,” he added.

Seematter’s dedication has also influenced Fitzwater to sponsor HB110, establishing March 30 of each year as “Vietnam Veterans Day” in Missouri.

The governor signed the bill into law on July 6 of this year in a private ceremony.

“Most of the Vietnam vets I meet don’t even know this legislation exists,” Fitzwater said. “It’s not a holiday, but an opportunity for us as a state to pause and recognize the commitment our Vietnam veterans have made.”

Though Fitzwater views Seematter’s crusade as his inspiration for celebrating a once overlooked group of veterans, Seematter quickly dismisses any credit he may be given.

“All of this,” Seematter said, “has never been about me or my picture. It is about what the picture represents —a homecoming parade that we never received and closure for the families who lost loved ones in the conflict.” 

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor Joy Mayer.