SALT LAKE CITY — Joined by dozens of veterans, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams lauded the sacrifice of more than 45,000 Utahns who fought in Vietnam 50 years ago, including the 354 who died while serving there.
McAdams also urged Utahns to honor Vietnam veterans in the same way they would soldiers from any war.
“The passage of time offers us perspective," he told those gathered Friday at the Salt Lake County Government Center. "History’s temperance allows us to find heroism and valor where the country once only felt anguish and remorse.
"Where once (Vietnam veterans) felt they could not or should not talk about their experiences, the war's 50-year anniversary gives us an opportunity to lift them, to learn, to reflect and to understand their service,” McAdams said.
Those in attendance recited the Pledge of Allegiance, held a moment of silence and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," then watched as McAdams and several veterans planted a symbolic evergreen tree in remembrance of the anniversary.
“We pledge to keep faith with those who still carry the scars of war, both seen and unseen,” McAdams said just prior to the ceremonial planting.
Dave Stensrud, director of Salt Lake County’s printing office, served in Vietnam. He spoke to his fellow veterans’ family members Friday, thanking them for being supportive during what he called a difficult time in American history.
“It was a time of turmoil in our country,” Stensrud said. “Our families were really our strongholds for us. They supported their sons and their daughters.”
Fifty years later, an estimated 16,000 to 17,000 Vietnam veterans still live in Utah.
Dennis Howland, president of Vietnam Veterans of America in northern Utah, said today’s generation must better learn to accommodate returning soldiers’ needs.
“We're not going to allow the next generation of veterans to experience the same things,” Howland said, noting that drug use, homelessness, mental illness and joblessness are common problems among Vietnam veterans. “We can’t allow the same things to happen again, because they are our children and our grandchildren who are out there fighting.”
The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that more than 1 million Vietnamese military and civilians died during the Vietnam War. More than 59,000 U.S. military perished in Vietnam, and just more than 1,600 are still listed as missing in action.
Stensrud asked those gathered to honor and remember those who died fighting or are still impacted by the decade-long war.
“There are times when I stop on Veterans Day and think of guys I knew who didn't come back, or who became disabled or become prisoners or war and endured inhumane conditions there," he said. "I thank them for their even greater sacrifice.”
According to Vietnam Veterans of America, 8.9 percent of military-age men in Utah during the duration of the Vietnam War served overseas, the fifth highest such rate in the country.
“People need to remember war's lasting effects. This war has had an effect on us for 50 years,” Howland said. “Fortunately, Utah is leading the nation in honoring and recognizing veterans from a war, which, at the time, wasn't very popular.”