Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 that ended the U.S. combat role begun nine years earlier in the Gulf of Tonkin.
While the acknowledgment of the end of our involvement in Vietnam runs until May 2025 — the 50th anniversary of North Vietnam invading the South in 1975 — I would argue this Friday, Jan. 27, is the more significant event to those who served.
One can only imagine the relief of veterans who had already served there and knew they wouldn’t be sent back to fight, to say nothing of the millions of draft-age men and their families waiting for a letter from the draft board.
Of the estimated 3.1 million Americans who served there, we had lost more than 58,000 mostly 18- to 25-year-olds, not counting an equal number wounded and disabled for life. It’s estimated that 70% of those who served were volunteers.
From February through March, North Vietnam released 566 American military personnel, including 513 of the 591 listed by the Department of Defense as POWs and 53 others carried as MIA. One of them was Air Force pilot Jon Reynolds, who’d been imprisoned for more than seven years. Retired Brig. Gen. Reynolds later joined Chapter 850, the local contingent of Vietnam Veterans of America. He passed last year and was honored by a flyover at Arlington (Virginia) National Cemetery.
But the unifying factor, not only for Vietnam but later conflicts, was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. Dedicated on Veterans Day 1982, it attracts nearly 5 million visitors annually and continues to call attention to the cost of war. Its 58,292 names include 160 Medal of Honor recipients, eight nurses and 16 Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy.
At its annual National Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony on Saturday, March 25, at 2 p.m., Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 850 will host the builder of the wall, Jan C. Scruggs, Esq., as its keynote speaker. “It will be an honor to meet him,” said Joe Startt Jr., chapter president.
Scruggs, a wounded and decorated Vietnam veteran, served in the Army’s 199th Light Infantry Brigade. In 1979, nine years after his return, he launched the effort to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of those who served in the controversial war with $2,800 of his own money, and gradually gained the support of other Vietnam veterans in persuading Congress to provide a prominent location on federal property.
Scruggs headed the effort that raised $8.4 million and saw the memorial completed in just two years. It was dedicated Nov. 13, 1982, during a weeklong national salute to Vietnam veterans.
After the completion of the memorial, Scruggs and author Joel L. Swerdlow wrote “To Heal a Nation: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial” — the story of Scruggs’ efforts to build the wall. In May 1988, it became an NBC Movie of the Week.
His example encouraged fellow veterans across the nation to create local memorials, not only for Vietnam but for other conflicts, as well. Vietnam Veterans of America’s national slogan, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” is a form of paying it forward, according to state council president Paul Davis.
The Kent County Veterans Memorial Park includes recognition of those lost in Vietnam, Korea and the Middle East, and a Gold Star Family Memorial. It also contains a War Dog Memorial, a “Huey” medevac helicopter and a POW/MIA Chair of Honor.
Delaware State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America