Designed by architects Shannon Diamondstein and Hui Min Chan and sculptor Joan Benefield, Nassau County’s Vietnam Veterans Monument will consist of two clasped hands emerging from a map of Southeast Asia. Much like the long black wall in Washington, D.C., it conjures an eloquence and stark and harrowing sentiment that reflects the experience of our troops who fought in those far away lands of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
I was honored and privileged to participate in the groundbreaking for the monument on May 7, 2005. The wind and cold of that early afternoon did not prevent many veterans and their loved ones from attending. Perhaps it was because of all that has been written about Vietnam that so few words had to be spoken. Those few words were, however, intensely moving.
"All we ever had was ourselves" is the language that adorns the postcard describing the monument. Just six words. Yet they do indeed capture, in a way that hundreds of pages never would, the soul of the bond that cements the dedication those veterans have for one another.
For too many, the unfathomable difficulties that confronted them as young men in Indo-China were eclipsed by the challenges they encountered on their return home. Even though they were our family and had done our collective bidding, they were never embraced in the same way as their fathers and grandfathers who returned from the World Wars. Tragically, they came back to a nation that was itself torn apart and wounded.
And so many never returned. And so many of those who did would long endure the scars and pain.
The Nassau County Veterans Monument Fund has published a brief brochure that sums it up best: "From July 8th, 1959 until April 30th, 1975, the United States of America sent its finest sons and daughters to serve in Southeast Asia. Some served in the early years as advisors, covertly, or in theater support, while others later served in-country and in combat. They are all brothers and sisters in arms. During the course of the war, these troops found that they were not fully supported by the government that sent them or by its citizens. The valor, duty, and sacrifice of these brave men and women is unquestioned. They never lost a battle. They endured hell on earth. Yet, they returned home not to parades but to scorn."
Once again we find our sons and daughters committed to another difficult conflict far from our shores. Whether we agree with the policy that places them in harm’s way or not, we must learn from what happened to our troops in Vietnam and we must resolve not to repeat their mistreatment.
The rolling hills surrounding the Veterans Tower at Eisenhower Park are beautiful and serene. We can recall the sacrifice of our fathers and grandfathers who fought in the World Wars at their monuments. We now owe it to our brothers and sisters who served us so well in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in those dark days of more than thirty years ago to finish their monument.
Let us now work together to complete that monument. Not only is this measure of respect long overdue, but it is truly the least we can do for the best their generation had to offer. And let us resolve to honor and protect our troops who now return from the war in the Middle East. That will be the most fitting monument to our Vietnam vets.