The living and memories of the dead came together Monday. Vietnam veterans and survivors of some of Utah's 364 servicemen killed a generation ago in Southeast Asia remembered fallen comrades and family members while breaking ground for a veterans' memorial on the Capitol grounds.
A majority of the 200 present were Vietnam veterans who milled around, talked over old times and then quietly stood in the hot sun listening to speeches from politicians, other vets and relatives of victims defending the Vietnam war and praising the sacrifices of the fallen.The Utah Vietnam Era Veterans Committee is building a circular memorial with four polished black marble plaques engraved with the names of the state's 364 soldiers who died in Vietnam. It will also contain an 8-foot bronze statue, sculpted by former Utahn Clyde R. Morgan, of a young infantryman returning from battle.
Nearly all the speakers said the monument would be a place of healing for those whose lives were disrupted and, in some cases, shattered by their Vietnam experiences. "It's time we honor those who served in Vietnam and let them know how much we appreciate them," said Lt. Gov. Val Oveson.
David Gardner, founder of the project, appealed for public support for the monument, saying "Freedom has a flavor those who fight for it know that the sheltered never know. I was not hurt by my service, yet so many were hurt, and the hurt goes on."
Loren Johnson, who served with an engineer battalion in 1969-70, expressed the feelings of many veterans: for too long, they were "out of sight - out of mind."
Truck driver Layne Warthen, who travels cross country and sees Vietnam memorials in small cities and towns, said it's time Utah has a memorial not only to honor the veterans, but to help the surviving families.
"I served with a fellow from Panguitch who was killed in May 1970. Finally, on Memorial Day 1976, I looked up his parents. They had locked his stuff in a trunk for 16 years. His sister told me his mother left the house every day only to go to the cemetery."
Utah County Commissioner Brent Morris recalled the feelings he had when he said goodbye to his parents and climbed aboard an airplane in Salt Lake City. "I think this memorial is dedicated to every Vietnam veterans who climbed into an airplane and last saw his parents. At some point, I think, there was a realization that we wouldn't see our parents again."
"A veteran is a man who knows the price of freedom. We need memorials to remind us of peace," said Pearl Rex, Utah coordinator of the National League of Families of MIAs and POWs.