Vietnam Memorial and History Center’s purpose is not only to preserve, but to
tell the story of The Vietnam War by the people that served there through
private photographs, newspaper articles, and displays that will enhance the
visitor’s understanding of the conflict told from both sides.
boomer generation that came of age in the sixties, was inspired when they
heard the call of President Kennedy to go anywhere, bear any burden, fight
any foe, pay any price to protect freedom’s call. When U.S. forces arrived in
Vietnam in March of 1965, their call was for duty, honor and country. America
sent its youngest military force ever into harm’s way. The average age was
just 19 years old.
would be a different kind of war. There were no front lines and you did not
know just whom your enemy was. The press had unlimited access to cover a
story, and were able to show uncensored combat footage in the evening TV
news, as most Americans watched from their homes. We had to concern ourselves
about body counts and the official “After Action Combat Report”; which in
many cases did not accurately reflect the activity which it was intended to
Unlike other conflicts, where returning veterans were given a
hero’s welcome, Vietnam was different. There were no welcome home ceremonies,
no parades, no job well-done speeches - nothing. Soldiers returned home to a
divided country and in many cases, public anger was vented at them, the
returning veteran, and all they did, was to do their duty as a soldier and to
go where their country had sent them. And now many feel that their country
had turned its back on them.
returning G.I.’s chose not to discuss Vietnam. It was just a matter of
practical necessity. They were never sure how the person they were talking to
felt about Vietnam and by the time they found out, it was usually too late to
change the subject.
One soldier explains,
“For many of us, this was a time of bitter emptiness. All we wanted was to
forget about the heat, the humidity and the fear which we experienced. The
memories, we just tucked them away out of our conscious minds thinking that
we could deal with them at a later time.”
Vietnam veterans have never had a sense of closure, nor do they feel that
their time on activity duty has been accepted in the same manner as in other
conflicts. Never have politicians been permitted to place restrictions on its
military on how to apply the use of force as it was in Vietnam. A veteran
said, “Even then, we did not lose a battle with the enemy. The only
conclusion that many of us share, who served in Vietnam, is that our
daughters and sons who now serve in uniform deserve better leadership,
support and compassion than we received.”
year passes, the memory of Vietnam grows more distant in the public’s mind.
It is important to let our young people know that we have never forgotten,
nor will we let it ever be forgotten; the service and the sacrifice that so
many young men and women have made.
Royal Hettling had the opportunity to visit The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
Washington, D.C. along with his family, as a part of the reunion activities
of his unit from Vietnam. He quickly noticed that in the throng of visitors
there that day, the silence and reverence shown as they walked past those
polished black granite panels, often reaching out to touch a name as if in an
attempt to reconnect with that person.
They later gathered at
the apex of the memorial for a quick photo. The public formed a semicircle
around them, being careful not to interfere with the photo which was being
taken. Many of the visitors stopped to look; some raised their cameras and
also took a photo of them.
To each one present
that day, the experience was very moving and emotional. After the photo was
taken they quietly assembled around one of the park benches placed some
distance from the memorial. While watching the crowd, they discussed what had
just happened and how they felt about it. Everyone agreed that this was the
very first time that they felt that what they had done in Vietnam was finally
appreciated and were proud to have served.
The Vietnam Memorial
and History Center is an on-going project, as new items are obtained they
will be added to enhance the displays.