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Kentucky memorial sundial

This sundial was commissioned and erected as memorial to those men from Kentucky who lost their lives in the Vietnam war. Their names are engraved on a polished stone plaza in such a way that on the anniversary of their death the shadow of the Style falls on their name and date. The dial is also set up for telling time, of course. It functions like a huge perpetual solar calendar counting off the names of the fallen soldiers. Its quite a moving memorial and incredible ingenious, writes John Mize who provided the description below. There is an image of this sundial at the foot of this page


The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. , a non-profit organization, founded by Ronald D. Ray, a Marine veteran of Vietnam, and other concerned veterans, was first endorsed by Governor Martha Layne Collins. The Kentucky General Assembly, on March 23, 1984, encouraged the Memorial Fund, "to design and raise the necessary funds for a monument to those Kentuckians who fought and died in Vietnam." Funds for construction were provided through private donations from business, corporate, and individual sources. The unique site overlooking the State Capitol was donated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1987. Upon completion, the Memorial was transferred to the Commonwealth with perpetual maintenance provided by the Memorial Fund

. The design for the Memorial was chosen in a national competition which required each entrant to submit drawings and a scale model. The design criteria stated that, "The monument should be distinctive yet dignified. It should not seek to imitate other monuments, yet it should evoke an emotional remembrance while being aesthetically authentic as a work of art. The monument should display the names of all Kentuckians who died in the Vietnam Conflict...or who are still unaccounted for."

The design unanimously selected was that of a sundial submitted by Helm Roberts, a Kentucky Architect. The ground breaking ceremony and "Gnomon" dedication, by Governor Martha Layne Collins, was held November 7, 1987. The remaining work for the Memorial was accomplished during the summer of 1988. The Board of Directors dedicated the Memorial on November 11, 1988, and Governor Wallace G. Wilkinson presided over the official ceremony on November 12, 1988.


The Memorial was conceived to be a place of contemplation and quiet meditation, to reflect upon the nature of the Vietnam War and those who served. It was also to be a place of ceremony and rembrance to honor those lost in this conflict. It takes the form of a large sundial whose shadow points to and touches the name of each Kentuckian killed in service on the anniversary of his death. The plaza for the Memorial contains the names of the 1,069 dead and missing in action or prisoners of the Vietnam War at the time of dedication. Each hour line of the sundial represents a year of American service during the war; thus, each sector between the walkways includes on year of service in Vietnam. The length of the shadow of the gnomon varies with the season of the year, with the longest shadows at the winter solstice, December 21, and the shortest on June 21, the summer solstice.

Each name on the Memorial is located so that the tip of the gnomon shadow touches that name on the anniversary of death; thus each Kentuckian is honored with a personal memorial day. Veterans Day is commemorated with an inscription located on the plaza where the shadow falls on November 11, at 11:11 AM, Eastern Standard Time, the date and time which marked the Armistice in 1918, officially ending the First World War. The arrangement of names was intended to demonstrate a visual pattern of Kentucky casualties during the Vietnam War. The first two deaths occurred in 1962 and the last Kentuckian was killed during the American evacuation in 1975. The year of heaviest losses was 1968, which falls between Noon and 1 PM, Eastern Standard Time. The names of those missing in action or prisoners of war are located behind the gnomon, where the shadow will never fall. The inner circle is marked with words from the Book of Ecclesiastes which reflect upon the ever changing nature of man in relation to the heavens and re-affirm that we, like the seasons and time itself, always move on and pass away. The timeless nature of the sun and earth stand in sharp contrast to man's brief life. The meditation area ovelooking the plaza provides a beautiful view of the State Capitol, framed by the gnomon and the flags of the United States and Kentucky.


The curved lines on the plaza mark the location of the summer and winter solstice and the path of the shortest and longest shadows of the year. The straight east / west line locates the path of the spring and fall equinox. The times inscribed on the stone outer circle represent natural or "sun" time. The walkways are located at the mean position of Eastern Standard Time. The "gnomon" or pointer stands 14.62 feet above the surface of the plaza and is 24.27 feet long. The angle of the gnomon is equal to the latitude, or 39 deg. 19 min. 25 seconds, from horizontal and points to the true North Pole and Polaris, the North Star. The gnomon was cut from a single piece of 3/16 inch thick stainless steel and fabricated in Lexington, Kentucky. It is filled with concrete and weighs over 5,000 pounds. The plaza is 89 ft., 4 in. long by 71 ft. , 1.t in. wide, including the benches. The plaza contains 327 pieces of 4 in. thick granite with pieces ranging from 2,421 to 133 pounds in weight. The average weight of each plaza slab is 1, 144 pounds. The larges pieces are 12 feet in length. This is one of the largest granite memorials in the country, weighing more than 215 tons. All granite for the Memorial was cut from the "Pyramid Blue" quarry located in Elberton, Georgia [U.S.A.].The face of each piece was honed to remove saw marks and finished with a sandblasted surfact to provide the lightest possible color to contrast with the shadow of the gnomon. All granite fabrication was done in Elberton from computer generated drawings which included full size templates for exact location and spelling of each name. Lettering and line work was cut into the granite using rubber stencils and sandblasting. All engraving was done in the factory with the exception of the summer and winte solstice lines and bench lines, which were done in place. The lettering of all names, months, and the Ecclesiastes verse is the same style as that used for official government stone grave markers throughout the Nation, including Arlington National Cemetery. The flagpoles are 35 ft. in height and are located 10 ft. to each side of the true north line. The area north of the winter solstice line is designated for ceremonies.

The preceeding transcribed from the plaques at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S.A.