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A Time To Honor Vietnam Veterans

My, how time flies. Can you believe that this month marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War — and that plans are already underway for the war’s 50th anniversary?

A bit of history: The Paris Peace Accords finally were signed by all parties: United States of America, Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam (Viet Cong).

The accords provided for continued U.S. logistical support (weapons, vehicles and war supplies) and combat air support to the RVN army. The post-Watergate, Democrat-majority Congress, however, refused to fulfill this responsibility (while the North still had the full support of the USSR and China), resulting in the chaotic fall of Saigon and immediately thereafter the country of South Vietnam in April 1975. As I have said before, our politicians snatched defeat from the jaws of our victory, but few historians have made that clear.

In 2008, Congress authorized the Department of Defense to organize and facilitate a program “all across America to assist a grateful nation in thanking and honoring our Vietnam veterans and their families.” Early last year, the U.S. government declared a 50th anniversary commemoration period from 2012 to 2025 whereby: 1) We thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families. 2) We highlight the service of the armed forces and the contributions of other governmental and nongovernmental agencies that served with or in support of the armed forces. 3) We pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War. 4) We highlight the advances in technology, science and medicine related to military research during the Vietnam War. 5) We recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by our allies during the Vietnam War.

An important aspect of this effort is the “recruitment of commemorative partners,” whereby civilian agencies and corporations sponsor specific aspects of the planning and conduct specific events.

For example, a few of the 6,200 commemorative partners already signed up are FedEx, Walmart, GE, Coca-Cola, USAA, Texas Tech University and The History Channel, as well as local businesses and institutions.

About six months ago, Department of Defense point man Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Claude Kicklighter and his team visited Hawaii to meet with a cross section of Vietnam vets, apprising us of this program and suggesting that, even though this is to be a nationwide event, given its central location in the Pacific theater, Hawaii could be the nexus of the commemoration. Many Vietnam vets already have fond memories of Hawaii, having met family members here for R&R from Vietnam tours.

From that initial gathering of retired Vietnam vets has evolved a dedicated steering committee for a concentrated 10-day event in April 2017, most likely because of necessary lead times for booking facilities and hotel room availability. Using professional expertise on the committee, we are making progress with state and federal funding, and a list of possibilities for local commemorative partners is expanding.

Aside from determining possible Waikiki hotel headquarters, and of course the role of Hawaii Convention Center, there are possibilities for a Waikiki parade featuring the veterans themselves, perhaps by state, military unit or even country. Our allied forces from Vietnam include New Zealand, Australia, Republic of Korea and Thailand, and, of course, the Republic of Vietnam — all will be invited.

Other possibilities include a memorial service at Punchbowl and dedication of unit plaques on the Walk of Honor there; the facilitation of individual military unit reunions at various venues; aerial demonstrations by the Navy’s Blue Angels and/or the Air Force Thunderbirds, the Army’s Black Daggers and/or Golden Knights parachute demo teams, and possibly military demonstration teams from other countries; perhaps a Vietnam War film festival featuring the highest quality war films and documentaries (including the most recent and highly praised Ride the Thunder about post-Tet Offensive Vietnam); various programs, lectures and symposiums on Vietnam; facilitated tours of Oahu’s military and natural points of interest; possibility of a grand wrap-up banquet featuring an entertainer like Lee Greenwood (Proud to Be an American) at the convention center.

A quote from Hawaii’s own Gen. Fred Weyand, who served in World War II and Korea, was commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam, was the last four-star commander in Vietnam, and was later selected as the 27th Chief of Staff of the Army, clarifies our mission:

“What haunts me is the cruel mis-perception that the American fighting men in Vietnam did not measure up to their predecessors in World War II and Korea. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

If any of you Vietnam veterans out there have ideas about what you would like to see included in this commemoration period, please email me. I may not be able to reply to all, but just know any serious idea will have been seen and seriously considered.

Oorah! Watch your six! Semper Fi and GB/GBA!