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Chicago will dedicate a quiet riverfront park today in honor of Illinois men and women who served in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Veteran Memorial Plaza, on Wacker Drive between Wabash Avenue and State Street, features a black granite wall etched with the names of the 2,942 residents killed or missing in action.

Other elements include a historic timeline, a water wall and fountain, and emblems of the Armed Forces and service organizations like the Red Cross. The $4.3 million plaza was built with federal and state funds.

The triangular memorial -- four times the size of its predecessor -- heightens the sacrifice made by Illinois service personnel, Ald. James A. Balcer (Ward 11) said. "It's a beautiful place where a person can sit and reflect and remember that the price of freedom isn't free," the decorated Marine and Vietnam vet said.

Today's Veterans' Day ceremony begins at 7:30 a.m. when the names of the nearly 3,000 casualties will be read one by one at the park, a reminder the fallen "aren't nameless, faceless people," Balcer said. "They have families, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives."

Mayor Daley will preside over the ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m. Special guests range from Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Al Lynch to members of Chicago's Vietnamese community, a group that backed the first memorial. The public is invited to attend.

The original landmark, established in 1982, was marooned on a cement median in Wacker Drive. Honks and exhaust fumes washed over the reflecting pool and adjacent statues of George Washington and two Revolutionary War financiers. The reconstruction of Wacker Drive moved the traffic lanes about 50 feet south, relocating the statues and memorial at the river to accommodate foot traffic.

The two-level plaza features Washington and friends on the top level. Three tiered lawns lead to the wall of names, a salute to Maya Ling Lin's iconic Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Vietnam vet Gary Tillery, who worked on the Michael Jordan statue at United Statue, sculpted the oversized medal set in the water wall. The design firm of Ross, Barney and Jankowski incorporated bricks and a plaque from the original memorial for the new one.

Visitors are urged to take rubbings of loved ones' names from the wall, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele said. "We plan to update the wall to reflect the addition of new names," he said.

Bumper sticker of the week

"Pray for me: I drive 80/90."

See, chocolate is good for you

A Gold Coast spa famous for caviar facials is offering a chocolate truffle body wrap.

A luxurious mixture of clay and chocolate is applied directly to the skin, a spokeswoman for Channing's Day Spa said. The client is enveloped in warm heated blankets for 50 minutes. The warmth soothes tired aching muscles while the wrap helps increase circulation, draws out toxins and exfoliates the skin. A soothing shower follows.

Cost of being wrapped in chocolate: $85.

Chance to live a calorie-free, post-Halloween fantasy: Priceless.

Grapevine

Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Paul Simon lunched Monday at Japonais ...The nightclub reserve (yes, it's lower case) is offering a $950 cocktail. The "Reserve Red Ruby" features a mix of liquors, Dom Perignon Rosé, pomegranate and orange juices and a 1-carat ruby garnish ... Spotted: Yankees manager Joe Torre noshing at Shula's Steak House.

The opinions expressed solely are those of the writer. She can be reached at mwoulfe@nwitimes.com or 219.852.4329.

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