More than 4,500 attend historic tribute to state’s Vietnam War veterans

Forty-one years to the day after the last American combat troops left Vietnam and nine years after the effort began, the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument was dedicated in a 10:00 a.m. ceremony Saturday, March 29th at the Texas State Capitol.  More than 4,500 people, most of them Texas Vietnam veterans and families of veterans, were present as Governor Rick Perry accepted the monument on behalf of the state.

The ceremony theme “Once, America Sent Them to War…Now Texas Welcomes Them Home” included the participation of veterans, family members, active-duty military, Texas school children and elected officials.  The monument honoring all Texans who served in Vietnam was unveiled and a special tribute made to the 3,417 Texans who died or are unaccounted for in Vietnam.

feat_img_04Ms. Karoni Forrester, representing the 3,417 Texas families whose loved ones were killed or missing in Vietnam served as Mistress of Ceremonies.  “We families have come here today – their parents, their children and their grandchildren, brothers and sisters, wives, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, to embrace all of you Vietnam veterans … to all of those of you who were with them in the war and with them at the end…we, their families want to be the first to say to you – We are glad you made it back. Thank you for your service.  Welcome home.”

Colors were posted by the Joint Force Honor Guard organized by Joint Base San Antonio led by USA SFC Brandon Scott Ogburn.  Joyce Denke, an American Red Cross “Donut Dolly” veteran of Vietnam led the Pledge of Allegiance.  Dr. Charles Edwards, ANRG Brigadier General, Retired, delivered the invocation.

Honoring the Vietnam veterans in song and music were the Texas Children’s Choir and the U.S. Army 36th Infantry Division Band.

Lieutenant General Mick Kicklighter, USA Retired and Director the United States of America 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War gave the first speech, telling veterans that both their state and their nation honor them.

U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson of Dallas, a highly decorated Air Force aviator who was held captive and tortured as a Prisoner of War for seven years in North Vietnam.  He shared his account of the Vietnam POWs’ patriotism, fidelity and faith, and closed with “some words a fellow captive etched on a prison cell wall in Vietnam that many of you embody and understand, ‘Freedom has a taste to those who fight and almost die that the protected will never know.’”

Next up was Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, saying “One hundred years from now, visitors from around the world will stand at this spot and learn the story of young Texans who left behind the greatest state in the world’s greatest country to risk their lives for people they didn’t even know,” concluded Dewhurst. “Let us never forget their sacrifice.”

Terry Burkett, a U.S. Navy veteran and member of the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument Committee introduced the veteran representatives to unveil the monument, saying, “Today marks the end of a long mission….a mission born in 2005 when the 79th Texas Legislature unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 36 that approves the placement of this monument here on the Capitol grounds for Texans that served in our Nation’s Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.  The TCVVM Committee has now flown that mission on behalf of Texas Vietnam Veterans.”

With the symbolic participation of Texas veterans representing all branches of the Armed Forces, the 3417 families, a Vietnam Army nurse, and Texas war correspondent Joe Galloway, the monument was unveiled to a standing ovation.

feat_img_02Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, co-sponsor of the monument legislation and a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, was the first to speak in front of the newly unveiled monument.  “As a Vietnam veteran for the U.S. Marine Corps, I understand the difficult sacrifices that our military families endure on a daily basis,” Sen. Hinojosa said. “The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument honors and thanks our fallen Vietnam heroes and their families for their ultimate sacrifice of defending our freedom, and welcomes those who came home and fought with great courage and resilience. It is our hope that this monument will ensure that the memory of our Texas Vietnam Heroes lives on. Semper Fi.”

Co-sponsor and fellow veteran Wayne Smith was next.  “Most of our men and women who fought in Vietnam never received a hero’s welcome or recognition for our service to our country and state,” Rep. Smith said. “With today’s dedication, we can finally say welcome home, and thanks for your sacrifice.”

Ms. Forrester then took the microphone to share the story of her father, Marine Captain Ron Forrester, who is missing in action.  “My family is just one, of three thousand four hundred and seventeen families, whose lives were forever changed when our loved ones’ lives were cut short during the Vietnam War.  All of our stories are different, but we have much in common.  We think of our lost loved one most days, some of us every day….As the years and the decades go by, we wonder, how would my life be different if he had been here to share it?”

She went on to explain that monument is also a memorial.  “Inside this monument, each of our fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers has a dog tag embossed with his name, rank, branch of service, date of loss and home of record.  Every tag was hand stamped, letter by letter, on the same kind machine that was used to make their dog tags during the war.”

Introducing Don Dorsey, the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument Committee member who made the tags, Ms. Forrester described him as “the Vietnam veteran who is responsible for this tribute, perhaps the only person in this state who has met all 3,417 of our loved ones, name by name, for remembrance here in this monument.”

Mr. Dorsey, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, described how another Marine took his patrol in Vietnam and was killed.  “Mine is not an uncommon story. Many of you here today are here only because of the selfless sacrifice of another. And we must never forget that. It’s our duty to keep and hold forever the memories of those brothers lost in battle.”

He spoke to the Gold Star and MIA families directly, saying “To the families and loved ones of the 3417, please know that, on behalf of the monument committee, these men are well remembered….With the entombment of the tags, this ground is forever sacred for you, for those of us who served with your loved ones, and for the future generations of Texans who will come here to honor them.”

feat_img_07State Senator Leticia Van de Putte introduced the ceremony’s memorial to Texas Vietnam War Heroes.  As 54 students of Edgewood Memorial High School’s JROTC Minutemen Battalion lined up in symbolic tribute, she explained, “The 3,417 dog tags entombed in this monument represent every community in Texas.  One Texas high school – San Antonio’s Edgewood, now called Memorial High School – paid an especially large price.   Fifty four of its former students were killed in action in Vietnam.  This enormous loss was the largest of any Texas high school, and, along with Edison High in Philadelphia, the largest of any high school in the United States of America.”

Three wreaths were then presented.  On behalf of the Gold Star and MIA Families, Gold Star Mother Mrs. Oleta Smith, accompanied by two Green Beret veterans who served with her son James Warren Smith, laid the family wreath.

The Trong Phan family of San Antonio presented a wreath on behalf of the grateful Texans of South Vietnamese heritage.

And a wreath was presented on behalf of the people of Texas.

Texan war correspondent, author and civilian recipient of the Bronze Star with V for Valor Joe Galloway took the microphone, telling the veterans.  “When America called you, you went.  From every small town and big city and from the scrubland cattle ranches and the Blackland Prairie farms.  You left your Texas homes and you went to Vietnam.  You were there.  I saw you.  But yours wasn’t the kind of war that monuments are built for.  Until one man decided it was.”  As he introduced Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument Committee chairman Robert Floyd, Mr. Galloway said, “Those of us who left our homes in Texas and went to Vietnam – we who were soldiers once and young – we can’t thank this man enough because here we are, at long last, looking at our monument at the Texas State Capitol.”

As he recounted the story of the building of the monument, Mr. Floyd thanked the lawmakers, donors and artists and delivered a message.  “We were not welcomed home.  For many decades we veterans of Vietnam have lived with the pain of that rejection.  But today, as we gather around the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument, those of us who have worked to build this monument are filled with new hope.

“Hope that the millions of people who visit these grounds will pause here to learn.  Hope that the families whose loss can never be measured will come here to remember.  And hope that all Vietnam veterans – from Texas and from all across this great country – will come here to heal in the knowledge that once, America sent to us to war, and on March 29th, 2014, Texas welcomed us home.”

He then introduced the members of the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument Committee, who joined him as he said, “Governor Perry, it is now my distinct honor, on behalf of the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument Committee, the Vietnam veterans of Texas, and the families of our fallen heroes, to present the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument to the people of Texas.”

Governor Perry “proudly” accepted the monument, saying, “”The monument we dedicate today will stand as an ongoing demonstration of the depth of our appreciation for the sacrifices of our Vietnam veterans, and a reminder of what is noble and good about the human spirit…It will stand as a declaration that in Texas, we understand how blessed we are to have warriors ready to step forward and draw a line between us and those who would do us harm.”

Then the monument was blessed in the tradition of Texas’ first warriors, as place of healing and welcome for all veterans by the Native American veterans of the Lone Star Hethuska Society.

Ms. Forrester had a final message for the children.  “All of you children – you remember this day.  And one day, I want you to bring your children here, and your grandchildren.  You tell them about these men and women that we honored here today. You tell your kids about how these veterans answered their nation’s call and left Texas to go to a far away land called Vietnam.  Tell them how these veterans fulfilled their duty to their country.  Your duty is to make sure it is Never Forgotten.”

The Colors were retired and Governor Perry greeted Gold Star and MIA families.

The crowd was organized for an historic panoramic photograph.

And Texas’ Vietnam Veterans met their monument.

Learn More About the 3417 Project

The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument will stand as a permanent honor to all Texans who served in the Vietnam War – and it will also serve as a permanent memorial to the 3,417 Texans who never came home.  This memorial will be made through The 3417 Project, which will individually honor each Texan who died in the Vietnam War.

Learn More