ST. CLOUD — Despite the pouring rain, hundreds of people attended a ceremony Saturday afternoon to honor Americans and Vietnamese people who fought and died in the Vietnam War.
The crowd gathered by the Vietnam War Memorial at Lake George for a short program and picnic. Many wore bright red and yellow, the colors of the Vietnamese flag, and others were dressed in uniform, both Vietnamese and American.
The program, too, represented the diverse crowd, as speakers thanked those who served for their sacrifices in the name of freedom in Vietnamese and English.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is our honor to have you here today, in front of this monument to commemorate Vietnamese veterans and 58,000 U.S. Army soldiers who died for our freedom, democracy and peace,” said Nga Wynne, one of the speakers and who helped interpret the words of the Vietnamese speakers.
U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in 1954, lasting until 1975. Originally a regional conflict between the Communist north and the people in the south, the war intensified as the U.S. and the Soviet Union backed opposite sides, a flare-up of the Cold War.
It’s estimated 2 million Vietnamese people were killed, about 3 million were wounded and 12 million became refugees. About 58,000 Americans died in the war, with the U.S. spending more than $120 billion on the conflict. The U.S. withdrew from the war in 1973 and South Vietnam surrendered in 1975.
The local memorial honors the Americans killed in the war and the Vietnamese people who fought with the United States against the Communist north.
She said she and the Vietnamese veterans were there to show younger generations how to continue to honor the sacrifices of their ancestors.
“With the advice from our Vietnamese seniors, (they) encourage us to protect and to maintain the cultural tradition of the republic of Vietnam,” Wynne said.
Vietnamese soldiers fought in a war that lasted nearly 20 years, she said, some never knowing peace in their lifetimes.
“They fought one battle after the next, and the next,” Wynne said. “Some die without the hope of (burial), their remains without peaceful rest. Some were buried in the far, far land, or (remain in the) jungle forever. We are the people who are so lucky to survive during those wars and (to now) live in the country of freedom and democracy.”
Vietnam War veterans get a chance to tell their stories.
Wynne reiterated that monuments like the one at Lake George can be important places of remembrance. She shared the thoughts of senior Vietnamese veterans in a poem.
“When we die, (there’s) no need to be a tomb. With little ash we leave behind, this monument is the place to rest. With old friends, together, we fought. Yes, this monument will be the place for our republic of Vietnam veterans to meet.”
The monument was dedicated about a decade ago, adding a tribute to American and Vietnamese soldiers alongside the names of Central Minnesota soldiers who died in the war. It was created through a collaboration of Vietnamese and American soldiers.
“This is a place that forever … will be an opportunity for people to come and gather and remember that collaboration and that freedom,” said Mayor Dave Kleis. “We honor, not only on a day like today, but always, what their sacrifice means and what it means, really, to live in freedom.”
Attendees made offerings of wreaths, roses and incense at the memorial, in honor of their loved ones and many others who fought and died in the war.
Larry Davis, the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 290, spoke about the origin and true meaning of Memorial Day.
“The observance of America’s Memorial Day was born of compassion and empathy in 1863,” he said, when the loved ones of fallen Confederate soldiers not only honored their dead, but the lives of Union soldiers.
“The true meaning of Memorial Day is to recognize the magnitude of the deeds of the men and women who held true to the notion that evil and tyranny must not prevail,” he said. “Memorial Day … (is) a day when we can rededicate ourselves to the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. But remember, we come not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them.”