Memories stirred by Vietnam War documentary

A visitor touches a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

On Nov. 11, 1969, Operation Fulton Square in the Quang Tri Province was in full force with the assistance of the 1st Marine Division, 101st Airborne Division and the 5th Infantry Division. This was one of 20 operations active throughout Vietnam. There were over 500,000 United States military personnel assigned to the Vietnam War zone.

Yes, Veterans Day 50 years ago was very different than this year. While today we have troops assigned to operations in the Middle East, we must realize that in 1969, the Vietnam War was raging. Identified as the second most deadly year of the Vietnam era, 11,780 United States warriors were killed in action.

All totaled, over 58,000 of our troops died in Vietnam, including 710 from Oregon.

Those who survived the war and returned home were never welcomed or treated with respect or honor. Most of these dedicated soldiers never heard the words “thank you” or “welcome home.” As a result, when it came to Veterans Day in 1969 and subsequent years, most Vietnam veterans did not wish to participate. These warriors did their duty, served our country and were rebuked because of that unpopular war.

Former Oregon legislator and Vietnam veteran, Sal Esquivel, stated: “We were not supported in the field, we were not supported by our government, we were not supported by the people and many of us were treated poorly when we came home.”

When you look around our capital city of Salem, you can find memorials built to honor the veterans of every war and conflict with the exception of Operation Desert Storm and the Vietnam War. Once again, there is evidence of the poor treatment of our Vietnam veterans.

Oregon can do better. There are Oregonians who want everyone to remember our Vietnam veterans. A Vietnam War Memorial on the Oregon State Capitol grounds to the south of the World War II Memorial is proposed. Over the past two years, dozens of volunteers have attended meetings and performed research. The end result of these efforts is a viable design.

The proposed memorial will remember the Oregonians who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. It will honor the four Oregon families who lost two sons to that war. In addition to historic accounts of the Vietnam War, the design includes a memorial to the six Oregonians who died in Operation Desert Storm.

Just as Oregon saluted the Greatest Generation with a World War II Memorial, it is time for Oregon to do the same for the Vietnam veterans.

Vietnam veterans are the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation. Vietnam veterans went to war to serve as their fathers and mothers did. It is fitting that we would honor these two generations. With the completion of the Vietnam War Memorial, these two memorials will honor over 75% of Oregon’s war dead. But memorials do not just honor those who died. Memorials honor all who served.

Veterans Day is designated to honor our military veterans who are still with us.

The average age of our Vietnam veterans is now over 70. We are slowly losing our Vietnam veterans. To show our Vietnam veterans the esteem they deserve, a goal has been established to honor our Vietnam veterans with a memorial on the Capitol grounds by Veterans Day 2022.

Will you join this effort? Please learn more at

Steve Bates, who lives in Boring, is a life member of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America.

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