South Vietnamese Veterans Memorial

Just outside Veterans Memorial Park – 339 Veterans Parkway

The South Vietnamese Veterans Memorial depicts two soldiers, one American and one Vietnamese. It includes a plaque noting the sacrifices of Americans and South Vietnamese who fought together in the war.It created some controversy because some American veterans objected to it being placed in the park.

Gordon Bassham remembers it well. “A friend of mine was part of the movement to get this monument established. But it was met with a lot of push back from people in the community because this was supposed to be a veterans memorial park to honor American Veterans. And there were a lot of people that said some pretty ugly things. I felt those comments were totally off the mark. They failed to recognize the shared sacrifice of the American and Vietnamese military, the soldiers, the airmen, the sailors, those comments offended me because I was there, and I fought alongside those people and I knew those people and I felt like this was important.”

Bassham enlisted in the Navy on March 21, 1966. He landed in Da Nang in January 1968. Three days later he survived the Tet Offensive. This was his first visit to the memorial since the dedication. I asked him what was his fondest memory of serving in Vietnam, his response surprised me, “In the barracks, we had a houseboy, a vietnamese kid that we paid out of our own pockets to take care of our uniforms. The kid was probably 14 or 15, just the nicest kid. We appreciated him, and he appreciated us. The last time I saw him, I was slinging my sea bag over my shoulder and we both had tears in our eyes as I left.”

Gordon also shared a unique insight, one of looking back, ”Some lessons are hard, when I got to Vietnam I was 21… I still hadn’t really grown up. And one of the things I learned in Vietnam was how to grow up, and how to grow up and be honest about it.”The monument sits on the outer perimeter of the park, a compromise with the city. While Gordon was disappointed, he said, “Even though it’s on the permeter it recognizes the fact that there were Vietnamese soldiers and American soldiers that stood side by side.”When asked if he wanted to return to Vietnam he responded, “There was a lot of stuff there I left behind, for a good reason.”

Thank you so much to Gordon for sharing some of his stories.

The New York Times covered the story, you can read it at this link.

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