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Vietnam Center Gets Major Gift From Australia

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Australia’s government will give $3 million to help build a planned visitor center near Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the country’s prime minister announced Monday.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is in the United States for a meeting with President Barack Obama, announced her government’s gift on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Australia sent some 60,000 military members to Vietnam as a U.S. ally in the war. More than 500 died.

Gillard, who took office in 2010, said the planned visitor center would be a place for visitors to both learn about and remember the war.

“I believe we must make every effort to remember,” Gillard said before visiting the memorial and running her hand along the wall’s names.

Australia has its own Vietnam memorial in Canberra, the country’s capital. But Australian veterans also visit the American memorial, said Jan Scruggs, the president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which is building the visitor center.

Scruggs said among the some 150,000 mementos people have left at the wall since it opened in 1982 are Australian brand Foster’s beer, Boonie hats worn by the Australian military and boomerangs.

Before Australia’s gift, organizers had raised $26 million of some $85 million needed to build the planned exhibit space, called The Education Center at The Wall. Scruggs said he expected Australia’s gift would spur other donations.

Plans for the underground center include displays of items left at the wall as well as a rotating display of photographs of the some 58,000 people who died. Scruggs, who wore a tie with kangaroos for Monday’s event, which was also attended by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said his group has now collected photos of 15,000 people whose names are on the wall.

Congress authorized the new visitor center in 2003, and organizers had hoped to break ground in 2010. Scruggs said groundbreaking will likely be in 2012 or 2013 and that it could take up to two years to build the center.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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