TERRE HAUTE —
Painful lessons from the Vietnam War were remembered Saturday as 27 names found a new place of honor.
The east side of the Vigo County Courthouse was full before 10 a.m. that morning, as more than a hundred witnesses arrived to rededicate a monument honoring veterans of the Vietnam War.
Paul Mason, a Vigo County Commissioner and Vietnam veteran himself, read from a prepared statement explaining the extensive campaign mounted to move the monument closer to those from other wars. Previously it rested about 100 feet away to the south of the building.
The Vigo County Veterans Memorial Plaza was dedicated May 30, 2003 to honor all veterans, and with Saturday’s rededication, the monument to Vietnam veterans takes its place among the others.
“Long at last, long at last, we’re finally home,” Mason said.
The Vietnam Memorial is a 10-foot tall, 24-foot long limestone monument designed by Terre Haute native Robert Crotty Jr., a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne Division. The work portrays a U.S. soldier holding his rifle, as well as the outline of Vietnam. The initial ground-breaking ceremony for the memorial took place on June 3, 1988.
A bronze plate was attached to the memorial and dedicated May 27, 1996 to honor and list the names of 27 men from Vigo County who died in the war between 1965 and 1972.
Patrick R. Ralston, vice president of business and economic development government relations at First Financial Bank and a Vietnam veteran, said the move was a fitting tribute to those lost in a “forgotten war.”
Recalling how he and other returning veterans were told to wear civilian clothes while coming back from the war, he said American civilians were spitting on and attacking U.S. troops as they walked off the plane. Harassed and screamed at, many American veterans from that war were forced to hide their uniforms, he said.
“And thank God veterans today are treated the way they’re supposed to be,” he said.
Indiana’s Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, said troops today owe a debt of gratitude to those from the Vietnam War.
“You were just doing what they asked you to do,” he said to those veterans in the audience.
Vietnam troops were never offered the training or support given modern troops and didn’t receive the thanks given their dads and uncles who fought in World War II, he said. Their treatment upon return was a dark part of American history.
“We in this nation apologize for how you were treated, and we will never forget you,” he said, pointing out the number of Patriot Riders who are Vietnam veterans. Today’s soldiers receive welcome parties upon their return, largely because Vietnam veterans remember the way they were treated and have fought for change.
“And those who wear the uniform today thank you more than anyone,” he said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.