“Thank you for your service, Soldier.” Signed, A Grateful Nation

"Moving", A Small Word Describes a BIG Experience

 

 

By Deborah Baber Savalla

On Saturday June 23, 2018, the Ventura County Vietnam Veterans again raised the money and dedicated their time making the Moving Wall, a half-sized replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, a reality in our county. These tireless veterans and their supporters deserve our profound thanks for a moving ceremony reminding us of the sacrifice soldiers make so the rest of us can live free from tyranny, oppression, totalitarian rule, autocracy, despotism, dictatorship, socialism, and communism.

A glorious day of sunshine is fitting but so too was the overcast day on which this somber service was held. Honor, recognition, and reverence for those who serve in the United States Military, the best and most compassionate military force in the world, is weatherproof and eternal. That was the prevailing sentiment.

Commander Rafael A. Miranda, U.S.N, Father Frederick Byaruhanga VA Catholic Chaplain, David Wilson, Congresswoman Brownley

It was important to see the elected officials in attendance and to see in the audience people who have declared their candidacy and won a spot on the November ballot like Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy who is running for the State Assembly in the 44th District. After all, elected individuals ultimately decide when military individuals are to be sent into war. It is fitting they, along with “we the people” who vote them into office should rub shoulders with and proudly stand side-by-side with the brave souls who don uniforms and carry our flag into battle, some among them never to return. The immensely tragic story of how politics at home and abroad blocked our otherwise successful Vietnam War strategy and crippled our nation is one of the darkest stains in our history. It is a blessing that in more recent memory, our nation has been able to embrace the Vietnam veteran and say “Welcome Home, Soldier… We are a grateful nation…Thank you for your service.”

It was an exceptional program. Congresswoman Julia Brownley said a few words and afterwards I asked about her experience in doing so. “It was an honor to participate in the ceremony and to be able to pay solemn tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in service to our nation during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County, who worked so hard to bring this incredibly important memorial back to our community once again, should be recognized for their commitment to remembering our fallen heroes. It’s clear that the wall is a deeply important place for families and friends to honor those they’ve lost – but also to continue the long healing process.”

Sitting next to Congresswoman Brownley was Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, 44th District. Fittingly she said, “This wall is an important tribute to the brave heroes that gave their all in Vietnam. The Veterans who fought for our country in this war deserve our respect and gratitude. I was honored to be a part of the ceremony. I encourage everyone to visit the traveling wall to experience the emotion and the history of the time.”

VVVC President David Wilson, Congresswoman Julia Brownley, and District 44 Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin

Ventura County Supervisors Kelly Long and John Zaragoza and Vietnam Veteran Ventura County President David Wilson

Ventura County Board of Supervisor John Zaragoza from the 5th District was also among the dignitaries. I asked him for his thoughts. With pride he listed the many family connections he has to the military including his father who served in WWII, an uncle who was killed in the Korean War and another uncle who served at the end, a brother in Vietnam,  a son between Noriega and “Desert Storm” and two nephews who served in Iraq, and a grandson who served in the US Navy respectively.

Ventura County Board of Supervisor Kelly Long from the 3rd District had this to say, “I completely support our Veterans. My great grandfather was in WWI, two grandfathers in WWII, father-in -law and uncle served in Vietnam. My family was fortunate that they all came home. However my husband’s uncle Boyd E. Marrow served in Vietnam and did not home home. His name name is on the wall. I visit it every time I am in DC. The wall reminds me of all the effort, commitment, dedication, and loss we have incurred while protecting Americans and our county. “

Also there were Jim Hensley and Bert Perello of the Port Hueneme and Oxnard City Councils respectively. Watching them from the audience it was clear they too were deeply moved.

After conversations with elected officials, I turned my attention to the men and women who matter when war breaks out.

Douglas Temple: “It was our mission to bring the Moving Wall to Ventura to honor those who fought and died during the Vietnam War, and to pass on to people information about the soldiers who died and who’s names are enshrined on the Wall.  Special attention was given to those from Ventura County. ” — U.S.  Navy from September 1967 to July 1971 and a life member of the Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County, VVVC  for the past 10 years. Doug did not serve in Vietnam although his service was contemporaneous with those who did. Ten years ago he bonded as one vet to another with members of VVVC and joined. He is also a proud member of the American Legion.

Ventura County Soldiers Memorialized on the Vietnam Memorial and Remembered at the Moving Wall Ceremony

Joe Richardson is a founding member of the Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County, VVVC. In fact, his lifetime membership number is 004! He was one of five soldiers who formed this group in 1986. Joe had this to say about the Moving Wall Ceremony…

I went down to the Ventura County Government center in 1985 on a cold and rainy night. I heard there was a version of the Vietnam Wall there, and so there was. I met a few vets and was deeply moved seeing the wall and finding the names of brothers there who had died.

Someone asked if I would be interested in joining up with other Vietnam Veterans to form a group in Ventura County. I was. I did. And the following year I became a lifetime member. My number is 004, one of the original five founding members of the Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County.

For 33 years I have been involved with bringing The Moving Wall to Ventura county, now a total of seven times. I have traveled to DC twice to see the original monument. The WALL is a very special place for me. What it stands for, what it tries to convey to others, is the driving force behind my own desire to serve others, especially veterans and their families.

This year I was determined to ensure the casualty lists and signs for the 111 Ventura County soldiers listed on the wall would be found. In the past we have not had enough volunteers and computers to find the names. It was wonderful this year and deeply gratifying to help visitors find the names of those they loved and had lost especially of all the local Ventura County boys.

VVVC Member 004 Joe Richardson and 44th District State Assembly Candidate Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy

It was also extremely satisfying to teach volunteers and docents, about The Wall, its meaning and the impact it has on countless souls.

I cannot begin to convey in words how dear it is to me to stand in front of the wall, see my reflection in that black, mirrored surface, feeling myself joined with those we lost.

The Wall designations Aug 66 and Sept 67 are especially hard to stand in front of.

In August 1966 I was blown out of a bunker and my brother was killed when we were struck by lightning. The following year in September 1967 a radio-man I had many months of combat with, died saving a whole platoon of my brothers in a fierce fight-fight at the DMZ. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery.

This year I was able to help so many people who visited the wall and in turn, they help me. Each time I helped a person find a name their story poured forth, tears never very far behind. I am proud of my service then and today, I am grateful I can continue to serve others.

“Drafted into the Marine Corp Jan 9 1966 …. I Hit the beach in DaNang April 23 1066 (4th platoon 1st Amtracs 3rd Marine Division) … in that general area till Nov 6 1966 when I went up to the DMZ at the mouth of the CauVIet river … was based there till I went home Sept 23 1967 … released from active duty Jan 9 1968 …” – Joe Richardson

David Wilson is President of the VVVC. and was the event’s keynote speaker. His was a powerful speech and can be read in its entirety below. It was a stark reminder of reality on the ground in the 1960s-early ’70s when our brave soldiers were battling abroad while dark forces at home stirred the American people against the soldiers. These men and women were doing the job we had asked of them through the election of people making decisions that sent them into combat. Then, as too often now, the media was complicit in promoting a false narrative, a narrative rife with lies of omission, half-truths, and outright falsehoods.

“The war wasn’t lost by our service personnel; it was abandoned by our own congress when they would not ratify the Paris Peace Accord. Our own news media headed by Walter Cronkite inaccurately reported the news about the war; celebrities like Jane Fonda posing with the North Vietnamese on the burned out fuselage of a B-52 or aiming anti-aircraft guns into the sky was tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy; all fueled those protests and false accusations we had to face coming home.

I can’t even imagine the anguish the families of the 58,318 must have gone through seeing and hearing how the sacrifice of their loved ones was being dishonored by the contempt shown our returning service personnel.”

General Giap was a brilliant, highly respected leader of the North Vietnam military. The following quote is from his memoirs currently found in the Vietnam War memorial in Hanoi: “What we still don’t understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender. It was the same at the battle of TET. You defeated us. We knew it, and we thought you knew it.  But we were elated to notice your media was helping us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the battlefields. We were ready to surrender. You had won!”

“I went into the Army in June, 1966 and served until April 1969.  After Basic Training at Fort Bliss TX, I went to Fort Gordon & Fort Benning Georgia then in January 1967 I was assigned to the 101st Abn Div at for Campbell KY.  In December of 1967 the 101st deployed to Vietnam.  I served in Vietnam with the 101st until April 1969.  I denied my military service until the summer of 2010 when the VVVC brought the moving wall to Ivy Lawn.  It was then I enrolled with the VA and joined the VVVC.  The VVVC began in 1985.”

VVVC President David Wilson keynote speech is below. It is worth reading… remembering… reflecting… on the Vietnam experience from a soldier’s perspective. Their cry is “We will never forget!” And our cry should be, “We will always honor your sacrifice… Thank you for your service!”

58,318: We Will Never Forget

“58,318; that is why we are here today.  To honor the 58,318 men and women who gave “the full measure of devotion” in the Southeastern Asian country of Vietnam. 58,318 is not the largest number who sacrificed their lives and there is still 1,595 missing and unaccounted for.

U.S. Casualties from WWII: 407,316

Missing and unaccounted for from WWII: 72,918

U.S. Casualties from the Korean War: 36,916

Missing and unaccounted for from the Korean War: 7,695

It can be said of all Veterans that “All gave some, Some gave all”.  All too often though, the sacrifices made by our veterans are soon forgotten, or as we, the Vietnam Veterans when we returned home, it was to protests and false accusations. We were spat on, called hideous names and worse.  Our own culture and society were trying to make us feel guilty for our honorable service to our country. Even the veterans from WWII and Korea, considered us failures and an embarrassment. The Vietnam Veterans didn’t lose single major battle during the war.

General Giap was a brilliant, highly respected leader of the North Vietnam military. The following quote is from his memoirs currently found in the Vietnam War memorial in Hanoi: “What we still don’t understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender. It was the same at the battle of TET. You defeated us. We knew it, and we thought you knew it.  But we were elated to notice your media was helping us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the battlefields. We were ready to surrender. You had won!”

The war wasn’t lost by our service personnel; it was abandoned by our own congress when they would not ratify the Paris Peace Accord. Our own news media headed by Walter Cronkite inaccurately reported the news about the war; celebrities like Jane Fonda posing with the North Vietnamese on the burned out fuselage of a B-52 or aiming anti-aircraft guns into the sky was tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy; all fueled those protests and false accusations we had to face coming home.

I can’t even imagine the anguish the families of the 58,318 must have gone through seeing and hearing how the sacrifice of their loved ones was being dishonored by the contempt shown our returning service personnel.

As Vietnam Veterans, we echo the motto of the Vietnam Veterans of America: “Never again will one generation of Veterans abandon another.” Every Veteran has served with honor and integrity; faithful to our oath to protect our nation from all enemies, foreign or domestic.

Whenever we do our school presentations of our own Vietnam Experience, I always say, “You can take the soldier out of the war, but you can never get the war out of the soldier.”  We owe all our Veterans much more than a “Welcome Home” or “Thank you for your service”. To be sure, these are appreciated, but we need to continue to support and care for our Veterans. One of my power point slides states, “There is no such thing as an unwounded soldier.” 

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States reads: “ We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”

It is one thing to declare and set the framework for a nations’ independence; it is another to achieve it, to secure it, to defend it, not only for ourselves; but also for others wanting to be free from the yoke of tyranny and oppression.  There is a heavy price to be paid for liberty and as Veterans we know the price tag all too well.  The flowers of liberty were not watered by gentle rains and the warm sun of good intentions; but by the sweat, tears and blood of those who have marched through the “valley of the shadow of death”; never for themselves alone, rather for all who would cry out from under the burden of oppression. 

I was reading a quote by Thomas Paine (1737-1809) from his Pamphlet series entitled, The American Crisis, which he signed “Common Sense”.  General George Washington had Paine’s first essay, issued December 23, 1776, read aloud to the Colonial Army at Valley Forge. Quoting from that essay, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.  What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; ‘tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.  Where, say some, is the King of America? I’ll tell you, friend, He reigns above.” [1] Veterans know the price of our freedoms and we esteem such freedom highly and are thankful to those 58,318 who gave the full measure of devotion to secure this most precious “celestial an article”. We will never forget the 58,318 or the 1,595 still missing and unaccounted for.

May God bless the 58,318 who honorably served and their families and may God bless America. 

(1) America’s God and Country, 1994, William J. Federer, FAME Publishing, Inc. pg. 490


Deborah Baber Savalla: I am a former New York City book publishing executive with over 20 years of publishing experience. My father was a career Air Force Pilot. He flew U-10s in Vietnam. My husband, a 33-year LAPD veteran, is also a Vietnam Vet. He served there 1967-1968, fourteen months.  I am eternally grateful they were and are in my life and am proud of and humbled by all the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. God Bless Them All… and God Bless America, forever may her flag wave!


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One Response to “Thank you for your service, Soldier.” Signed, A Grateful Nation

  1. Mary Ellen Seguin-Adomat July 7, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    I am so proud of my brother, Larry Seguin, who served with the Marines in Vietnam, for his continued service to and for his fellow veterans, and his wife, Brenda Seguin, who served as a docent for this event. Semper fi.

    Reply

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