Series Blog

Memorializing Vietnam

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War -- five decades ago President John F. Kennedy signed the National Security Action Memorandum and significantly increased military aid to South Vietnam. This Memorial Day marks the official kickoff of events honoring that anniversary, though if you looked around, you might not know it. In a Boston Globe article last Sunday Brian Bender hit the nail on the head, noting that few events have been planned and necessary corporate funding for such events has been lackluster at best.

On January 14th 2011, the Department of Defense published a press release officially recognizing a government sponsored commemoration program for the 50th anniversary in 2012. The first objective of this program is to:

"thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war (POW), or listed as missing in action (MIA), for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.”  (

The most visible effort appears to be the creation of the program’s website, which features a heavily-detailed interactive timeline of the war as well as a calendar of scheduled events. (However, the calendar lists only nine events across five states.)

A quick Google search for events in my local area of Boston included one from a Gloucester, MA publication, titled “No room for Vietnam? City's Memorial Day plans draw fire over ceremony snub."

Many people, patriots and antiwar protestors alike, have considered U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War to be one of the great blunders in our country's military history. But we must also recognize an equally disappointing truth: the absence of adequate reverence for the men and woman who fought for a grueling 20 years. During a recent Medal of Honor ceremony for a Pennsylvania Army specialist killed in combat during the Vietnam War, President Obama noted, "This month, we'll begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War -- a time when, to our shame, our veterans did not always receive the respect and the thanks they deserved, a mistake that must never be repeated," he said.

Reinforcing the president’s powerful words, retired Army General Wesley K. Clark, a 1966 graduate at West Point, points out that the sacrifice of the returning armed forces persons is still underappreciated. Clark recently recounted his memory of the spectators at the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1982: “I recall the looks on their faces, the sadness, the lingering feelings that there was a certain resentment.”

Twenty years later on this Memorial Day, the Vietnam war memorial wall will be rededicated in an effort to rectify such sentiments. Twenty years later on this Memorial Day, how will you honor the sacrifice of the three million Vietnam War service members?


Jason Kashdan is a student at Boston University and an intern for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.

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