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By Butch Meriwether

 

Americans from across our great nation will pay homage on Vietnam Veterans Day, on March 29, 2018, for those proud citizens who served during the Vietnam War and to those who paid the ultimate price.

Many Americans do not realize our government’s participation in Vietnam occurred long before the actual war began.

 

The first American military death in Vietnam occurred on Sept. 26, 1945, during the unrest in Saigon when Office of Strategic Services Officer Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey was killed by Viet Minh guerrillas who mistook him for a French officer. Before his death, Dewey had filed a report on the deepening crisis in Vietnam, stating his opinion that the U.S. “ought to clear out of Southeast Asia.”

The U.S.’s participation in Vietnam escalated on July 26, 1950, when President Harry Truman authorized $15 million in military aid to the French. American military advisers accompanied the flow of U.S. tanks, planes, artillery and other supplies to Vietnam. Over the next four years, the U.S. spent $3 billion on the French war and by 1954 provided 80 percent of all war supplies used by the French.

Former Allied commander in Europe during World War II and five-star Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as the 34th U.S. President on Jan. 20, 1953, and that’s when U.S. military aid greatly increased to the French in Vietnam to prevent a communist victory. U.S. military advisers continued to accompany American supplies sent to Vietnam.

To justify America's financial commitment, Eisenhower cited a Domino Theory in which a communist victory in Vietnam would result in surrounding countries falling one after another like a "falling row of dominoes." The Domino Theory was used by a succession of presidents and their advisors to justify ever-deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

According to government records, our country's official involvement in Vietnam Conflict lasted 5,569 days (1960 – 1975).

Other statistics not normally known by all Americans include:

  • The average age of our military personnel serving in Vietnam was only 22
  • More than 2,709,918 Americans served during the Vietnam War
  • It is estimated that fewer than 700,000 of all military personnel who served in the Vietnam War are alive today
  • The youngest American Vietnam veteran's age is estimated to be about 60 years old now
  • There were 58,318 Americans killed in action (KIA) or listed as missing in action (MIA), including 11,465 teenagers
  • There were 621 people from Arizona who were killed in action
  • One out of every 11 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty, with 303,644 wounded in action
  • More than 1,616 American service members are still designated as missing in action in Southeast Asia
  • There were a total of 2,646 MIAs: 1,971 in Vietnam, 573 in Laos, 90 in Cambodia and 10 in China. Today, there are still MIAs - 1,275 in Vietnam, 295 in Laos, 48 in Cambodia and seven in China
  • There are 15 military servicemen from Arizona who are unaccounted for during the Vietnam War – seven were killed in action and their bodies were not recovered, and eight are presumed dead
  • At the peak, 543,000 troops were serving in Vietnam and the adjacent countries

The youngest U.S. serviceman to be killed in action during the Vietnam Conflict was Private First Class Dan Bullock, who joined the Marines at14 by altering his birth certificate and graduated from boot camp on Dec. 10, 1968. Bullock died from enemy small arms fire at Hoa Combat Base in Quang Nam Province June 7, 1969, at the age of 15.

According to a Presidential Proclamation designating March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day, President Barrack Obama said, “…The Vietnam War is a story of service members of different backgrounds, colors, and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission. It is a story of Americans from every corner of our nation who left the warmth of family to serve the country they loved. It is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm's way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear.

From Ia Drang to Hue, they won every major battle of the war and upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces…”

Vietnam Veterans Day coincides with March 29, 1973, the day the United States Armed Forces completed the withdrawal of combat and combat support units from South Vietnam.

In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in the District of Columbia to commemorate those 58,267 members of the United States military who were either KIA or were declared MIA in Vietnam. As of 2017, the number of names on the memorial had been upgraded to reflect 58,318 (1959 and 1975 are the years inscribed on The Wall).

There are events scheduled for observance of Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29 in Mohave County. They are: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Veterans Memorial Park, 310 W. Beale St., in Kingman and the Kingman Young Marines will present the colors for this event; London Bridge Resort - doors open at 5:30 p.m., posting of colors at 5:45 p.m., spaghetti dinner at 6 p.m., and keynote speakers will be Mayor Mark S. Nexsen, Vice Mayor Cal Sheehy, Judge Mitch Kalauli.

There are no specific events scheduled for Bullhead City except Veterans United Inc. will be hoisting flags at the Arizona Veterans Memorial adjacent to the Colorado River and the Bullhead City government will present a proclamation for Vietnam Veterans Day during its meeting this month.

Many of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion posts and other fraternal organizations will conduct ceremonies and if interested in attending, contact them for their event schedule.

We as Americans who enjoy freedom must stop to remember those proud servicemen and women who served our country within the boundaries of Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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Above, an M-1 rifle, military helmet and combat boots representing a fallen soldier stand as a silent tribute at Veterans Memorial Park in Kingman. Butch Meriwether/The Standard

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