AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s been a long time coming, but on the grounds of the state Capitol Saturday, the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument is now in place.
About 500,000 Texans served in Vietnam, and 3,417 died there. Just more than 100 Texas remain missing in action today. The number of Texas casualties in that war are only exceeded by California.
The dedication comes 41 years to the day that the last American combat troops left Vietnam and nine years after the effort to bring such a memorial to Texas began.
Gov. Rick Perry accepted the monument on behalf of the state at the public ceremony. A tribute was made to the 3,417 Texans who died or are unaccounted for.
Several thousand veterans and their families were expected at the ceremony. In addition to Gov. Perry, speakers include U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson of Dallas, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and State Senator Juan Hinojosa. Lieutenant General Mick Kicklighter, Director of the United States 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War will also be in attendance.
“This nation sent our men to war, Texas welcomes them home and says thank you for your service,” said Veteran Lt. General Mick Kicklighter while speaking at the event.
The centerpiece of the monument is five infantry figures surrounded by panels depicting: women who served, air power, blue water navy, brown water navy, artillery and helicopter forces. Another panel symbolizes the people and military of South Vietnam.
Personalized dog tags honoring each Texan who died or is missing are inside the memorial. A duplicate set of these tags is displayed for the public in the Texas Vietnam Heroes Exhibit, which will be in the Lower Rotunda of the Capitol until April 7.
Among the Texas MIAs is 25-year old Capt. Ron Forrester, a Marine aviator shot down Dec. 27, 1972, exactly one month before the peace treaty was signed. He left behind a daughter.
“I was just two when my dad was lost,” said Karoni Forrester. “I grew up hoping one day he would come home and I would get to know my dad.”
“Everyone was panicked and we waited to see if he was on the list of prisoners from Hanoi,” she said, recalling that era. “When he wasn’t we continued to wait. And then search for answers.”
Karoni is now co-chair of a national crusade of sorts, the National League of POW/MIA families.
But why do so many remain missing?
“The United States needs to do more,” Karoni said. “We need to increase the pace and scope. The Vietnamese at this point have very much said come in and get our business done over there.”
Two Vietnam vets who did make it home to Texas had a hand to play in Saturday’s events.
Robert Floyd was co-chairman of the committee behind the Texas monument.
“One of the lessons the country learned since then is to honor the soldier,” Floyd points out. “We may disagree with the politics of a war, but those guys and gals who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, thank goodness we have welcomed them back.”
An accompanying memorial, made up of the recreated dog tags of the 3,417 Texans who died, arrived in Austin on Thursday and will be shown in the capitol rotunda.
Watch this story from 2012 on the memorial monument:
It’s co-creator, Don Dorsey, was among the thousands of vets expected for Saturday’s unveiling.
“We should turnout. No one honors us as much as we honor ourselves,” Dorsey says. “We’ve been Vietnam veterans a long time and we haven’t got much recognition.”
Families of those who served will realize some sense of settlement Saturday but it is difficult for MIA families.
“They just want closure so we can complete the grieving cycle,” Karoni Forrester said. “So we know our loved one is in the hands of God.”
She has been designated the Mistress of Ceremonies for Saturday’s dedication, which should draw thousands, including veterans’ families and VIPS.
“It will be great to be with so many veterans and give them a good welcome home,” Forrester said. “They didn’t receive that back then.”
“They started calling us names, we kept going and they began spitting on some of the guys,” said Veteran Hector Alva. “They called us baby killers. This that and the other.”
The veterans remained strong in the face of adversity and the unveiling shows them that appreciation for their efforts has finally been realized.
“We survived the war and we survived the unwelcome” said Alva. But now it puts a lump in your throat something like this,we welcome this.
“It’s finally due and it’s a tribute to all the heroes we lost in that war,” said Robert Campos, another veteran. “And, I believe paying this final tribute is an honor and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
The remains of a Michigan man were identified just last week, bringing the national total of MIAs to 1,642 Americans.
The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument was approved in 2005 by the 79th Legislature to honor Texans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam and to remember those who died. Volunteers raised about $2.2 million for the monument.