‘Welcome home, brother’
Weekend of events honors Vietnam veterans
Veterans gathered the weekend of Sept. 21-23 to raise funds for a monument to Vietnam veterans to be built in front of the state capitol in Austin. Vietnam Veterans of America Inc. Chapter 292 and the city of Beaumont united to close the fundraising gap for the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument.
Veterans started the fundraising weekend with a reception and POW/MIA ceremony at the Events Centre at 700 Crockett St. in downtown Beaumont Friday evening. Veterans and their families gathered to remember and honor the prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Saturday morning, veterans celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 292 with a Veterans Memorial Motorcycle Ride. The motorcyclists and others gathered for a ceremony at the Ben Rogers Visitors Center on Interstate 10 in Beaumont.
Kerwin Stone, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 292, introduced Terry Burkett of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 915 in Austin. Burkett addressed the crowd.
“It is a pure pleasure to be here in Beaumont,” Burkett said. “You can look at each other today and really say, ‘Welcome home, brother.’”
Burkett said 3,415 Texans were killed in Vietnam. Dog tags for each of those soldiers will be made and encased in a vessel that is to be entombed forever under the granite slab of the monument.
Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames attended the ceremony and said she believes the monument will show appreciation to veterans who were not welcomed home after returning from Vietnam.
“I want them to know they are appreciated,” Ames said. “And we don’t want history to repeat itself. When these soldiers came home, they would walk through the airport and the crowd parted, but no one would speak to them. We want to say, ‘Thank you,’ and, ‘Welcome home.’”
Ben Rogers Visitors Center director Kathi Hughes said the event gave her an opportunity to educate her 11-year-old daughter about the trials Vietnam veterans faced upon returning from the war.
“My daughter asked why we were doing this now,” Hughes said. “It opened up a dialogue between us, and I was able to explain to her what they went through and how they were treated. I was able to open up a part of history for her, and that made her realize how blessed she is. That was amazing.”
After the ceremony, veterans rode to various sites with Vietnam memorials around the area. Chris and Sarah Green led the group around town in their Dodge Charger painted with the POW/MIA flag. Green, who currently serves with the United States Coast Guard, said his great uncle, Marion T. Miller, was a prisoner of war for many years after his capture at the Battle of Bataan in World War II in 1945.
Veterans ended their ride at Cowboy Harley-Davidson in Beaumont. Festivities included a spaghetti lunch from Saltgrass and entertainment from band Bronco Junior.
Later in the evening, artist Duke Sundt and author Colonel Albert J. Nahas were featured at the VIP/sponsor reception at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in downtown Beaumont. After the reception, veterans, their families and other members of the community participated in a “Heroes Dinner” honoring Vietnam veterans.
The Texas State Historical Commission will match all donations up to $500,000. According to Burkett, the fundraising event in Beaumont should garner the remainder of the funds needed to build the $1.5 million monument. Go to buildthemonument.org for updates, to donate and to hear true stories of Vietnam veterans.