Traveling memorial honors Texans killed in Vietnam
When war broke out in Vietnam in 1955, it was only a matter of time before an America seeking to slow the spread of communism would join the fighting.
When the United States entered the war in force by 1965, thousands had already died. It would be nearly another 10 years before the bloodshed ended, and more than 40,000 Americans would give their lives. Among those, approximately 3,417 Texans who made the ultimate sacrifice are now being honored by the traveling Texas Vietnam Heroes Exhibit at Edison Plaza in downtown Beaumont.
The exhibit features a dog tag for each and every Texan who died in Vietnam, a shining example of the sacrifice each made for his country. The exhibit has made its rounds across Texas for the last three years, and now it’s Beaumont’s turn to honor the fallen patriots.
Marine Cpl. Chuck Albanese, father of Mike and Eldon Albanese of Albanese Cormier Holdings, which own the new Edison Plaza, was selected as the purveyor of the exhibit and said he was honored to be selected by Mayor Ames to host the exhibit.
“I was blown away,” Chuck said when he found out the exhibit was coming to Beaumont. “We found out a couple weeks ago.”
After serving in Vietnam from August 1967 to July 1968, Chuck said he has never forgotten the sacrifice his fellow Marines and servicemen and women made during one of America’s bloodiest wars.
“It’s very special because I had a lot of buddies who didn’t make it out of Vietnam,” Chuck said. “I was fortunate that I came back, so it’s very special to me.”
The exhibit will stay in the Edison Plaza lobby until Oct. 6 and will be manned at all times by a United States veteran. Friday, Sept. 20, was national POW-MIA day. Numerous veterans braved the persistent rain Friday to man the exhibit and pay tribute to the 102 black tags, each a Texas soldier who never made it home.
“What I think about when I see these dog tags, each dog tag to me represents a piece of freedom that I hold so dear,” Chuck said. “And when that exhibit comes to this building, then this building, the grounds and this lobby, everything to me is sacred.”
Mayor Ames was on hand to christen the exhibit, saying Beaumont is fortunate to have the opportunity to honor all Texas veterans.
“We are one of only a few cities to get this, especially one of our size,” Ames said. “We’re hoping that all of our citizens will come and see it because it represents 3,417 individuals, and I know there aren’t many of us here in Beaumont who didn’t lose someone that we know or loved.”
Jim Breda, a Beaumont native who graduated from Forrest Park High School (now West Brook High School) in 1971 said he was at the exhibit trying to find old classmates who never came to their class reunion.
“There were several classmates from our 40th reunion that didn’t make it back; at least we haven’t been able to get a hold of them,” Breda said.
As he perused the thousands of shiny, silver dog tags, Breda breathed a sigh of relief as he came to the last name in the exhibit.
“One fella I knew, he had been in the war because he got drafted and I didn’t. He went in the Air Force and I heard he got shot down,” Breda said. “I was under the impression he was lost or killed, but according to this he’s not on the list, so he must have made it back. At least I know he survived the war.”
At least two of the dog tags represented Beaumont natives.
“That’s something that weighs heavy on me because many of those were my friends,” Chuck Albanese said. “Many of those I served with. I knew two guys that I graduated high school with that’ll be in this display.”
Mike Albanese said he’ll be sure to tell his children the sacrifices made by those who came before them.
“Our father raised us to have the highest respect for our country and for all those who have served and are now serving in the military,” Mike said. “When we bring our children to view this memorial, to see the 3,417 Texans who gave their all in Vietnam, we will share with them that their grandfather was able to wear his dog tags home.”
As Chuck reflected on each dog tag, he said he wished he could talk to each one and thank them for giving the ultimate sacrifice.
“We could never repay them. They paid the ultimate price for what they did,” Chuck said. “I would like to speak to each one of them as this exhibit comes in. When I see this exhibit, I will speak to each dog tag on there. I’m reminded of Revelations 21:4: “The lord said one day, I will wipe away all the tears from your eyes and I will take away all the pain that you suffered on Earth.’”