Remembering the Conflict as Eight Men are Honored
It was something that consumed families long before I was born. In fact, it wasn't until I was 7 years old, that I realized visions of this all consuming matter, filled our black & white portable television set. It was there where I saw, on 1 of the 3 channels we possessed, reporters and anchormen talking about some kind of war in a place called Vietnam, as helicopters could be heard swirling in the background. I was a 2nd grader... what did I know (?), other than to try and understand why grown ups around me looked so upset and scared about what was being reported. An entity that bombarded their television sets with no apparent end in sight. By the time I reached high school, I found myself wanting to learn more about Vietnam and why it existed, and why it dared to affect so many families across the nation. For me, reflecting on Vietnam was really the first time I understood the sacrifices that were being made, whether or not it was considered a justified war in the eyes of Americans. The Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I & II and the Korean War were all taught in school, but because the Vietnam War was somewhat closer to my generation, I felt that I related (from a comfortable, spoiled and far distance) to what soldiers/veterans had gone through for our country.
These were young men that my father taught in high school. Mere teenagers who frequented the same places I did in our small community. There was a sense of knowing them because we grew up in the same neighborhoods. Yet, never having direct contact, but rather a sense of being.
The above is the story and the reality I carry for myself. So, when this past Sunday (June 24th) rolled around and as I prepared to attend the unveiling of Anaconda's Vietnam Veteran Memorial, what I told myself before and what I knew right then and there, was that my memory of what I had studied and seen on TV about Vietnam as a child, NOWHERE COMPARED OR MATCHED the firsthand experiences and heartaches of the men and women who came to honor these soldiers. By way of friendship or family, the sight of hundreds attending, left me feeling humbled and lucky to have had such heroes from our county defend our country. These men, mostly by way of draft cards, sacrificed their lives in something to be considered one of the most controversial war efforts involving America. Tears came to many bystanders at the Vietnam Memorial Ceremony, as the eight young men from Anaconda who died in the conflict were revealed with their names engraved on black marble on a somber, yet breath taking memorial. Surrounding it, are the names of those who have served in the military, as well.
With Pastor Phil Masters leading in prayer, veterans and Deer Lodge County CEO Bill Everett, paid tribute with many heart felt speeches. Soon after, Judge Ray Dayton gave his firsthand account of how the receipt of his brother Fred's draft letter would forever change his family's life. He went on to say that although Fred returned home unlike so many soldiers, he was still a casualty of war, succumbing to health problems related to his tour and agent orange. There were no health implications regarding agent orange at the time; a herbicide, dioxin mixture used by the U.S. military at Vietnam. In the aftermath, thousands of soldiers had health related issues as a result of this toxin.
The ceremony continued on with the inevitable uneasiness of war, but also prevailed as a celebration of bravery for the many men and women who served and continue to serve in the United States military. According to the Anaconda Local Development Counsel, Vietnam veteran Mickie Nazer is credited for spearheading the Memorial project in Anaconda. Through the help of grants and donations, the Anaconda Vietnam Era Veterans Memorial Association was able to effectively raise funds needed for the project.
To view this inspiring memorial dedicated to Anaconda's eight fallen veterans of Vietnam and the many amazing service men and women of our country, just take a scenic drive to Anaconda, Montana then head to Kennedy Common outdoors on the corner of West 4th Street and Main Street.
I know each time I view it, I will resort to remembering my first encounter of the Vietnam War on television at the age of 7, all the while knowing that my "living room war" experience (now.tufts.edu) could NEVER mirror or help me to phathom what these stellar soldiers went through in combat for us.