Alyssa Pham, Roselie Nguyen and veteran Ton That Hong address the crowd with honor guards holding flags at the groundbreaking for the Vietnamese-American War Memorial at Les Gove Park on Sunday. RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

Alyssa Pham, Roselie Nguyen and veteran Ton That Hong address the crowd with honor guards holding flags at the groundbreaking for the Vietnamese-American War Memorial at Les Gove Park on Sunday. RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

Solemn service at Auburn’s Vietnam War Memorial groundbreaking

Alliance, city leaders, veterans welcome planned shrine at Les Gove Park

Sun smiled on the flags of two nations last weekend at Les Gove Park – the Stars and Stripes and the flag of the Republic of Vietnam, a nation that has been out of existence for 43 years come April.

And more than 100 people sang, or did their best to sing, the national anthems of the two countries.

Standing near the flags Sunday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Vietnam War Memorial, the soon to-be actualized dream of the Vietnamese-American War Memorial Alliance, opening speaker Rosalie Nhung Nguyen talked about the hopes she and others cherish for the spot to be a place of healing for too-long-open wounds.

“Today, this memorial is being built as a sign of unity. It is being built to honor those who sacrificed for the values of freedom and self determination. This historic memorial is also for our children, and grandchildren, for their futures, so they may learn the full and true story of the Vietnam War and the many heroic acts,” Nguyen said.

It will be, Nguyen continued, a memorial for those American-born veterans whom their government sent halfway around the world to a country they knew almost nothing about, to fight and sacrifice their lives for issues they probably knew even less about. Most of those soldiers, she said, were tragically unprepared for what they saw, heard and suffered there, and when they came home, many of their fellow Americans spat at, cursed them, told them to shut up, forget about it.

It is also about the Vietnamese veterans and their families who came to the United States, stripped of everything – including their dignity – after their own country had fallen to communism, to begin new lives, with nothing but the shirts on their own backs.

The memorial design no longer offers a statue as it did in 2013, when the Vietnamese-American War Memorial Alliance first proposed it for Veterans Memorial Park. Instead, around the back side of a circular plaza 50 feet in diameter will be a “Wall of Honor” with a Vietnam veteran insignia – yellow, red, and green – and the image of a soldier engraved in granite panels. Along the wall are two panels displaying names and insignia of U.S. and South Vietnamese branches of military service.

And on the wall, inscribed in English and Vietnamese, will be these words: “We remember with gratitude the soldiers and allies of the United States of America and the Republic of Vietnam who fought and died for freedom and democracy in Vietnam.”

“It’s been roughly 5½ years it’s taken us for this journey,” said Mayor Nancy Backus, as a parent in the audience wrangled with a restless child. “And every step I think you will agree has been worth it. Not everyone of them was easy, but I don’t believe anything during the Vietnam War was easy. This is a tribute to the dedication and perseverance of everyone involved. Honoring our veterans, our current service members and those who have given their lives for our country, is an integral part of who Auburn is.

“The greatest honor we can give those who have given everything is to never forget. This memorial will be living proof of our commitment to do just that,” Backus said. “… Fifty-nine-thousand U.S. service members were killed in Vietnam, the number of those killed or missing in action from Washington, according to the Washington State Department of Veteran’s Affairs, was 1,124, and from Auburn, 12.”

Lan Phan Jones, co-director of the American-Vietnamese War Memorial Alliance, offered thanks.

“No matter what the outcome of the war, the Americans lost the war, the South Vietnamese lost the country, but we still thank you for your service to my country, South Vietnam,” said Jones.

Also part of the alliance are Auburn veterans David Schmidt, Mike Sepal, John Lee, Thom Stoddert, Steve Koneck, Allen Jones, former Auburn mayor and veteran Pete Lewis, and Peggy Caudill, Sandie Dolge and Chuye Nguyen.

“It makes me very proud, it’s been a long time coming, and I appreciate everything everyone’s done to make it happen,” said Schmidt, a 100-percent disabled Vietnam War veteran with PTSD, who spoke for the memorial when other veterans first opposed its presence in Veterans Memorial Park. “This will certainly get me to come and sit, parade and everything.”

Construction on the memorial began March 12 and is to conclude with a dedication ceremony on or around Memorial Day. Donations may still be made to the alliance, which had to take out a $37,000 loan to secure the money needed to complete the memorial. On May 12, there will be a fundraising dinner at Tea Palace in Renton.

The alliance is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.

For more information or to donate, call 360-357-7684, email contact@honorvietnamvets.org, or visit honorvietnamvets.org.

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VIDEO, courtesy of Mike Sepal: facebook.com

Mayor Nancy Backus on the war memorial: “Honoring our veterans, our current service members and those who have given their lives for our country, is an integral part of who Auburn is.” RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

Mayor Nancy Backus on the war memorial: “Honoring our veterans, our current service members and those who have given their lives for our country, is an integral part of who Auburn is.” RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

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