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Retired Marine pleads for joint American/Vietnamese memorial in Veterans Memorial Park
The Auburn City Council meeting had reached that point where anyone in the audience with something to say is invited to come forward and say it.
A thick set man with a gray beard, leaning on a wooden cane, got up.
He gave his name: retired Marine First Sgt. David Schmidt, E-5. Served two tours in Vietnam between 1965 and 1969. Retired from the Corps in April of 1985. Suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Is 100-percent disabled.
Then Schmidt made a heart-felt plea to the council.
"Let 'em have this," Schmidt said.
"This" is the joint American/Vietnamese memorial former South Vietnamese soldiers hope to build in Veterans Memorial Park, a stone's throw from the established memorial honoring veterans of the U.S. armed services.
Not all of Auburn's veterans agree with Schmidt.
Many of his former comrades in arms, with vivid memories and passions of their own about that war, are dead set against the memorial there. They want no part of the defunct flag of South Vietnam flying anywhere near the American flag. Some still bear anger and carry unhealed wounds from the war, insisting that too many South Vietnamese betrayed their American allies.
Such was not Schmidt's experience.
He described the bravery of the South Vietnamese soldiers he had known. Especially that of the radio operator whose head, mere inches from his own, was blown off by a shell.
The South Vietnamese lost their country in that war, Schmidt repeated: "Let them have this."
When he finished, tears stood in many eyes.
At Veterans Memorial Park Monday, two veterans, neither of whom knew Schmidt or his feelings about the memorial, asked him what he thought about it.
Determined to avoid an argument, Schmidt listened in respectful silence to what they had to say.
If is the memorial is allowed, one of the men asked him, what would stop Germans, or Japanese or Filipinos or Korean, or anybody else for that matter, from putting up their own memorial in the park? Let the South Vietnamese find their own ground, the man said.
If the memorial goes up, the man said, many veterans have already vowed they will never set foot in the park again.
Schmidt later explained to the Auburn Reporter why he feels so strongly about the memorial.
"It's because I understand what (the South Vietnam veterans) are going through. Here you have these guys that spent years in a concentration camp after the communists took over. They're living in the United States now. Where else can they go? The cemeteries in Vietnam, if you fought for the South, they pretty much don't exist anymore, or are overgrown. There's not much there, no place for them to go and grieve.
"And it's the same way for me. There's a lot of opponents against this. But if it were here, in the park, I'd have a place to come, too. If that memorial was in the park, I'd be here a lot during the week, just to sit. And not just me. I know a lot of GIs that are adamantly for the memorial. As many people as are against it, I believe that there are more people for it. It helps to heal wounds. The Vietnamese are coming up with their own money to do it, all they need is a space to put it up in. It's time to move on," Schmidt said.