AUSTIN — A contingent of residents from the Fort Hood area made the trek to Austin to join more than 3,000 people Saturday to witness the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Monument.
Visitors to the Capitol grounds are met by a collection of monuments that stand as sentries of the past, acting as reminders of the service and sacrifice of Texans in times of war. Now, the half-million Texans who served and the 3,417 who died in the Vietnam War will be honored alongside the heroes of the Alamo, Confederate soldiers from the Civil War and Texas veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
Representing the Army at the unveiling was retired Col. Otis Evans, 70, of Killeen, who was a medical evacuation pilot for 12 years with the Air Ambulance Platoon, 326 Medical Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, in Vietnam.
“This experience added substantially to the healing process. There will likely be more events such as this in the future and that will bring it to completion,” Evans said. “It was a great welcome home.”
Nestled in dappled shade on the northeast side of the Capitol grounds, the Vietnam Veterans Monument will stand as a permanent reminder that 105 Texas men who answered the nation’s call remain missing in action in Vietnam. It also honors 17 native Texans who earned the Medal of Honor, and will be a place where visitors can reflect on and honor every Texan who fought in Vietnam.
Gov. Rick Perry said the ceremony, also marking the 41st anniversary of the last U.S. troops to leave South Vietnam, was fitting because through the conflict, men and women exhibited the same amount of courage and loyalty American forces have always demonstrated.
“They fought, they bled, and all too often they died for their country,” he said. “Then they came home and there were no parades.”
After being approved in 2005 by the 79th Texas Legislature, the $2.2 million monument was produced at the Deep in the Heart Art Foundry in Bastrop. More than 600 individuals, organizations, corporations, and foundations donated to build it.
The centerpiece of the monument is five infantry figures. Just as each branch of service and military specialty played a key role in the Vietnam War, the elements come together in a unified tribute to all who served. Panels depicting women who served, air power, blue water Navy, brown water Navy, artillery and helicopter forces surround them. Another panel honors the people and military of South Vietnam.
Also in attendance was Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, who returned from Afghanistan last month.
“Vietnam vets have always been supportive in our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I wanted to come and express my thanks (and) greet them with the honor and dignity they deserve,” Milley said.
Entombed inside the monument are 3,417 personalized dog tags honoring each Texan who died or is missing.
A display of those dog tags was available for viewing Saturday and will continue through April 7.