It's time for Oregon to say 'Welcome home' to Vietnam veterans
Fifty years ago more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were deployed to Vietnam, and the new year of 1969 brought many of the same experiences of 1968 — the year of the greatest number of casualties during the Vietnam War.
Almost 3 million warriors served in Vietnam. Thousands were from Oregon. All told, there were more than 58,000 American troops who died in Vietnam; 710 of them were Oregonians.
These were the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation. The Vietnam generation of warriors went to war and served their country well. Yet when they returned from serving their nation, they did not get a "Thank you," let alone a "Welcome home."
The era of the Vietnam War was a tumultuous time. There was strife and discord. The Vietnam-era veterans were treated poorly — spit upon, verbally rebuked and on many occasions physically attacked for wearing a military uniform and serving their country. During the ensuing decades, the Vietnam-era veterans, and their service to our country, were essentially ignored.
In our Oregon state capitol building, you can find a memorial to the veterans of the Civil War. In our state capital city of Salem, on state properties, there are memorials honoring the veterans of the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Afghan-Iraqi wars. Many Oregon communities have a local monument, memorial or park to honor their veterans and war dead. Some communities have honored their local Vietnam War heroes with separate Vietnam War memorials.
Yet in our state capital, there is not a statewide monument or memorial honoring our Vietnam War veterans.
California and Washington have erected memorials on their capitol grounds to honor their Vietnam veterans and collectively say, "Welcome home." It is time for the state of Oregon to do the same.
Over the past two years, a group of Oregon residents has been working toward that end. The Vietnam War Memorial Fund was founded as a nonprofit charitable organization, established with the sole purpose of funding and building a Vietnam War Memorial on the Oregon state capitol grounds. As a result of the efforts of this group, on Dec. 12, 2018, the Oregon House Interim Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness voted to sponsor House Bill 2195, which will be introduced in the 2019 legislative session.
House Bill 2195 establishes a Vietnam War Memorial on the state capitol grounds and provides the necessary permissions for the expeditious completion of it. In addition, it stipulates that the memorial will be funded by donations from the private sector.
House Bill 2195 begins the process to enable the state to collectively say "Welcome home" to our Vietnam veterans. This bill must be passed by the House and the Senate to be signed into law by the governor. You can help by telling your state representative and state senator to support HB 2195, the Vietnam War Memorial bill.
It is appropriate that a Vietnam War Memorial be placed on the grounds of the state capitol. This will demonstrate our state's commitment and gratitude to our Vietnam-era veterans and allow us to honor and memorialize them for generations to come.
It is time for the state to say "Welcome home."
For more information about the Vietnam War Memorial Fund, go to VietnamWarMemorialFund.org. Contributions can be made by credit card on the website or by sending a check or money order to: Vietnam War Memorial Fund, PO Box 1448, Boring, Oregon 97009.
Steve Bates is a member of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America. He serves as chairman of the Committee on Memorials and Remembrance and president of the Vietnam War Memorial Fund.