The 2021 legislative session started with the hope that the Legislature would honor our Vietnam Veterans by passing a bill to establish a Vietnam War Memorial on the Oregon state capitol grounds.
Senate Bill 319 was introduced by the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness. The bill dedicates a portion of Capitol State Park to a Vietnam War Memorial to be funded and constructed by a qualified nonprofit corporation.
SB 319 in its last paragraph declares an emergency. Its preamble states that more than 180,000 Oregonians served during the Vietnam War, of which about 100,000 are alive today. The average age of these Oregon veterans is 70 and older.
Oregon is losing up to eight Vietnam veterans per day, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
SB 319 states; "it is imperative to memorialize the service and sacrifice of all who served during the tumultuous decades of the Vietnam War." This should be done before our Vietnam veterans are gone.
The Senate passed SB 319 March 18 with a 29-0 vote. The bill was moved to the House and assigned to the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Management with a subsequent referral to the House Committee on Rules.
On May 18, the House Veterans Committee passed the bill unanimously with a "do pass" recommendation. On June 16, the House Rules Committee did the same. On June 22, the House passed SB 319 with a 58-0 vote. It now awaits the governor's signature.
In 2017, the Vietnam War Memorial Fund was founded as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation with the sole mission of funding and constructing a Vietnam War Memorial on the state capitol grounds. For a year and a half, its steering committee met regularly and developed a design for the proposed memorial. The design was adopted on July 31, 2019.
During 2020, the design was reviewed and approved by the Oregon Capitol Planning Commission and the city of Salem Historic Landmarks Commission. The design was also approved by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission on Feb. 25.
Subsequently, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and the Vietnam War Memorial Fund have entered into a memorandum of understanding that outlines each entity's responsibilities.
The approved design includes interpretive panels which will detail historic events and facts of the Vietnam War. This information will be developed later in the process by the steering committee, which is outlined in the memorandum of understanding. The steering committee will consist of veterans, local and national historians, interpreters, local and state public officials, and people representing Oregon's Vietnamese and Southeast Asian communities.
This project has met all local and state requirements with more than a dozen public hearings or forums. As a result, the Legislature voted to honor our Vietnam Veterans by passing SB 319 and setting aside space for a Vietnam War Memorial on the state capitol grounds.
With the governor's signature on Senate Bill 319, the major permissions will be in place to construct a Vietnam War Memorial.
While there are state and local requirements to be met, the greatest challenge remaining is raising the $3 million needed to complete the project.
As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, remember to honor all of our veterans. Freedom is not free.
In particular, you can honor our Vietnam veterans with a contribution to the Vietnam War Memorial on the state capitol grounds project.
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