At a simple ceremony Monday night by a small memorial set in front of the Dukes County Courthouse, the Martha’s Vineyard Seacoast Defence Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) remembered the Vietnam War and paid tribute to those who served in it, 50 years after the beginning of what was deceptively termed a conflict.
The DAR chapter held a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam War memorial monument on Main Street in Edgartown. The plaque affixed to the front of the stone lists 75 names on an honor roll of Edgartown men and women who served their country during the Vietnam War, from 1961 to 1975. It also includes the names of all who served in other wars up to 1999.
The recognition of Vietnam veterans is a national project for the DAR, chapter regent Cindy Krauss explained, following a prayer by chapter chaplain Jane Drew.
“Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War,” she said. “The Martha’s Vineyard DAR chapter has joined the commemorative partners of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, and pledged to let every Vietnam veteran know that we are part of the grateful nation who thanks you for your service to our country.”
Currently there are 7.2 million living Vietnam veterans, Ms. Krauss noted.
“We thank you for your valor, your service, and your sacrifice,” she said, adding thanks to the veterans’ families for their sacrifice as well.
“After 50 years, we have not forgotten, and we will never forget,” Ms. Krauss concluded.
She was joined in laying the wreath by Tom Bennett, associate executive director and human rights officer of the Island Counseling Center at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
Mr. Bennett, who has run a weekly veterans group since 1984, served stateside in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps during the Vietnam War. He recalled how he and Vietnam veteran Paul Schultz launched the initiative to create the memorial where the wreath was laid in front of the courthouse. Mr. Bennett also acknowledged the committee members who worked with them over a two-year period to gather the names and establish the monument.
“Some gave their lives, and others served as they were called,” Mr. Bennett said of those listed. “All subjected themselves to the hardship of training and carrying out the mission asked of them.”
“It is our hope going forward,” he added, “that communities throughout the land will always honor and welcome home all those who serve our country, now and forever more.”
The United States supported South Vietnam in its war with the Communist North first with advisers, and later troops. More than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were involved in the Vietnam War by 1969, at the peak of U.S. involvement. In 1973 President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The war ended in 1975 when Communist forces seized control of Saigon. The country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year. More than 3 million people, including 58,000 Americans, died in the Vietnam War.
Before Monday night’s ceremony, The Times spoke with Mr. Bennett, Mr. Schultz, and Al Noyes, a Vietnam veteran, memorial committee member, and former Edgartown American Legion Post No. 186 commander. They shared their thoughts about why it is important to remember Vietnam, and how the war still resonates with people.
“It was a very troubling time for the country, and I think a lot of people certainly never got the recognition they deserve,” Mr. Bennett said. “I think nowadays that we honor our troops no matter what the political position is about the war.”
“I think that has a lot to do with what happened to our guys who came back from Vietnam and weren’t honored,” he added. “And the Vietnam veterans made for darn sure that from then on, anybody that came from war was honored, no matter what people thought about whether we should be there or not. And I think that’s something we can be proud of.”
Mr. Schultz and Mr. Noyes both said they were called “baby killers” when they came back from Vietnam.
Mr. Schultz served in the U.S. Army as an artilleryman operating howitzers in Vietnam from February 1969 to April 1970. He said when he and two fellow returning soldiers arrived back in the States, four men approached them in the Seattle airport, called them “baby killers,” and started a fistfight.
“One of the guys with me was a Green Beret, and they swung at him, and that was it,” Mr. Schultz said. “Four of them against three of us. And we were in shape. It was no contest.”
After several decades, Mr. Schultz said, it’s a different story. “I’ve been getting a lot more thank-you’s now.”
Mr. Noyes served in the U.S. Air Force as crew chief on a B-52 bomber in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972.
“It’s important that we remember everything,” he said. “When we came back, we were treated pretty terrible. Everybody knows that. It’s taken a long time for people to decide that we weren’t bad guys.”
About 40 people attended the ceremony, including 15 Island veterans, the majority of them Vietnam vets. Donaroma’s Nursery and Landscaping Services provided the beautiful wreath featuring red, white, and blue roses at a very generous discount, Ms. Krauss said.
The Martha’s Vineyard Seacoast Defence chapter is one of 3,000 DAR chapters worldwide. The DAR, formed in 1890, is a nonpolitical, volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education, according to the Seacoast Defence Chapter’s website.