by Mike Spofford, Packers.com
What started out as a one-night gathering inside Lambeau Field has turned into a three-day celebration that will be the biggest non-Packers and non-sporting event in the history of the renovated stadium.
It's called "LZ Lambeau: Welcoming Home Wisconsin's Vietnam Veterans" and it's coming up May 21-23. Between 20,000 and 25,000 people are expected to attend the keynote ceremony inside the stadium bowl on Saturday night, May 22, with thousands more potentially passing through during a weekend designed to honor Vietnam-era veterans for their service and sacrifice for our country.
"The Green Bay Packers are proud to be involved in this unique event and to be able to host it at Lambeau Field," President/CEO Mark Murphy said. "It will be a special three days to reflect on a very important time in history."
The event was developed through a partnership involving Wisconsin Public Television, The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wisconsin Historical Society and many veterans organizations. The highlight will be the premiere of excerpts from Wisconsin Public Television's documentary, "Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories," to be shown on the stadium TundraVision.
That was the original idea for the event, which is named "LZ" for the "landing zones" that Vietnam veterans were often deployed to. The ceremony has since blossomed into a much larger event that includes Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Museum educational displays inside the Lambeau Field Atrium, the Moving Wall (a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.) in the Ridge Road auxiliary lot, an entertainment stage in Lambeau's east parking lot, Vietnam War-era vehicles and aircraft on display at the stadium and Austin Straubel International Airport, respectively, and a motorcycle "Honor Ride" arriving at the stadium on Friday, May 21, to kick off the weekend.
The motorcycle ride will traverse the state, beginning in La Crosse, Wis., with the final stage coming from Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton to Lambeau Field. The ride will include 1,244 motorcycles, representing the number of Wisconsin soldiers who did not return from Vietnam.
The festivities are open to the public, with the film tribute inside the stadium bowl the lone portion that requires a ticket. More information on tickets can be found at www.lzlambeau.org.
For the Packers organization, the event requires coordination and participation of several departments. In addition to the special events staff, others involved include security, the ticket office, public relations, facilities and stadium personnel, and video board operations, just to name a few.
"It's very exciting, and the project itself is a lot of fun to work on, just because it means something to so many people," said Beth Magnin, special events corporate sales manager for the Packers and Lambeau Field. "A lot of people have connections to Vietnam veterans and they're eager to do whatever they can to help out."
The Packers have shown their support for the military in the past with send-offs for deployed soldiers and a military cap campaign through the Packers Pro Shop, but this event has involved the organization in another way.
Magnin likened the management of the event to handling the annual Family Night Scrimmage during training camp. That event also has activities going on inside and outside the stadium at the same time, which otherwise only happens on a large scale on gamedays in the fall.
"We've tried to model it after Family Night, as far as looking at what works well and doesn't work well," Magnin said. "For us it's kind of a learning experience because we don't do many things in special events that involve the stadium bowl."
Perhaps success with LZ Lambeau could lead to more large-scale events for the stadium, but time will tell. But for now the focus is on helping LZ Lambeau's organizers make the event the memorable tribute they've envisioned.