Vietnam veterans, welcome home

The lessons taught to us by the Vietnam War were difficult to swallow, but resulted in America becoming a better country and a better military. Two of those very important lessons were that first, “we leave no one behind.”

There are few other countries that have such an etho and honor such a steadfast and sustained commitment. Thanks in great part to Vietnam-era veterans, the Department of Defense has over 650 people devoted to accounting for the missing and searching for, recovering and identifying their remains, including the more than 1,600 still missing from the Vietnam War.

The second lesson is that our nation must support its warriors, “regardless of our personal feelings about the war.” Unfortunately, that was a lesson some learned the hard way in the Vietnam era. Yet, our Vietnam veterans have shown nothing but distinctive honor and comradeship to their fellow service members fighting more recent wars.

Vietnam veterans can be proud of their support for today’s veterans and those still serving, including development of the post-9/11 GI Bill and how our returning troops are welcomed home today. I want to thank you, our Vietnam-era veterans, for these and many other lessons, and to again welcome all of you home.

In 2015, the state of Hawaii joined the long and growing list of states that have extended a much overdue “Welcome Home” to our nation’s Vietnam veterans. Officially called “Vietnam Veterans Appreciation Day,” the actual proclamation date of April 30, 2011, coincides with the date that the last American soldier and civilian departed South Vietnam more than 40 years ago.

While the history of American involvement in the affairs of Vietnam dates back to 1945, the Vietnam War, (also known as the Second Indochina War, Vietnam Conflict, and in Vietnam as the American War), took place from 1959 to April 30, 1975. The war was fought between the Communist-supported Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States-supported Republic of Vietnam.

One might argue that the conflict should more properly be called the Southeast Asia War, as it directly involved not just Vietnam, but also Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and, to a lesser extent, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Regardless, history reflects that this war ended with the defeat and failure of the United States foreign policy in Vietnam.

The term “The Vietnam War” or more simply “Vietnam” is used most often offhandedly in an unspoken belief that everyone understands what is meant. But this assumption of a shared understanding is deceptive and depending on who says it and to whom, it has different meanings.

To the men and women who served there, “Vietnam” conjures up memories of situations, events and conditions grounded in their own personal experiences. To those who did not serve, Hollywood’s portrayal of Vietnam in movies such as “The 4th of July” and “Forrest Gump,” whether factual or not, provide their only insight.

So although related, these images are anything but synonymous. But what is universal is the atmosphere of failure, the feeling of betrayal and a sense of ridicule imposed upon our veterans as they returned home, not to parades and celebrations, but to protestors who mistakenly associated the blame for the war with the patriots who found it.

Today, after so many years have passed, most Americans don’t know the events which lead to the surrender of South Vietnam to the communist North in 1975 and most of what we have been told about the war is not true. Sadly, most don’t know that it was the U.S. Congress that turned victory in the Vietnam War into defeat… not our troops.

The simple facts are that in December 1972, then-President Nixon approved a massive bombing campaign on Hanoi which resulted in the realization by North Vietnam that defeat was evitable. In January 1973, Nixon announced the signing of the Paris Peace Accord which guaranteed the South Vietnamese free and fair elections, freedom of religion, press and speech, and the return of all American prisoners of war.

Additionally, the Enforcement Provision of the Paris Peace Accord promised the South that the U.S. would provide it with all the armaments it would need to defend itself against any future North Vietnamese aggression.

An attempt by Congress to withhold funding and block this agreement was defeated by Nixon and an end to the war was assured. However, the Watergate scandal resulted in Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, and the following November Democrats were swept into Congress by a landslide.

When President Ford begged this Congress to honor the word and promises of the U.S., many Congressmen stood up and walked out of the chamber in defiance of the president’s request. On April 30, 1975, South Vietnam surrendered. Senator J. William Fulbright (Arkansas) summed up Congress’s lack of concern when he said “I am no more disturbed than I would be if Arkansas lost a football game to Texas.”

Members of Congress at the time had an investment in the failure in Vietnam because many of them had themselves actively participated in protests against America’s involvement in Vietnam and they turned certain victory into defeat.

Following the fall of Saigon, more than a million South Vietnamese were sent to re-education camps in the countryside. 250,000 of them died, victims of executions, torture, disease and malnutrition. Over the next 7 years, 1.5 million fled via the South China Sea seeking freedom.

History recalls these expatriates as the “Boat People.” An estimated 200,000 died from drowning, murder by pirates or were sold as slaves. Of the survivors, nearly 850,000 were accepted by the U.S.

There were 2.8 million Americans who left the battlefields of Vietnam with their heads held high with the dignity and honor of their patriotic fathers before them. Countless others left with wounds they would carry for the remainder of their lives. More than 58,000 left the battle field draped by the American Flag and carried by their buddies.

Unlike today’s veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan who are openly honored for their service when their nation called upon them, the Vietnam veterans’ return home to the U.S. was eclipsed by the politics of the times.

There were no groups of flag-waving supporters gathered at airports or train stations. Instead they were groups of protestors who confused the sacrifices of these brave men to help their fellow man — with support for the politicians who caused the war in the first place.

But when veterans get together, grumble about shared hardships, and laugh out loud at the tales of adventure in faraway places, it doesn’t mean that these years have not been important to them. It means just the opposite, that every day and every friend were gifts they treasured and need to be celebrated.

Long after these brave men and women are laid to rest — when all fighting has finished, and our nation has endured; when today’s Iraq and Afghanistan servicemen and women are themselves veterans, and their children have grown — it will be said that Vietnam veterans believed under the most trying of tests that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard, And that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and they stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free people.

As time continues to march, we say thank you to our 2.8 million Vietnam veterans and we remember our 58,000 brothers and sisters who wait for us in eternity. We hear their gentle whisper of the words that America could not bring itself to say, “Welcome Home.”

May God bless the memory of those we lost in a war called “Vietnam.”

Pfc. Clyde Joseph Caires, U.S. Army

Home of record: Kalaheo, Kauai

Date of Birth: February 22, 1948

Date of Death: March 3, 1967 (Age: 19)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section C 7

Pfc. Francisco Concepcion Jr., U.S. Army

Home of record: Kilauea, Kauai

Date of Birth: January 5, 1942

Date of Death: November 17, 1965 (Age: 23)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section C 5

Staff Sgt. Gaylord Kila Defries, U.S. Army

Home of record: Anahola, Kauai

Date of Birth: July 12, 1945

Date of Death: August 1, 1969 (Age: 24)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section A 8

Pfc. Gary Noboru Kawamura, U.S. Army

Home of record: Lihue, Kauai

Date of birth: May 10, 1944

Date of Death: May 3, 1967 (Age: 22)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section C 7

Pfc. Allen Lanui Lewis, U.S. Marine Corps

Home of record: Eleele, Kauai

Date of birth: March 1, 1949

Date of Death: June 9, 1969 (Age: 20)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section C 5

Pfc. Rodney Wayne Pavao, U.S. Army

Home of record: Makaweli, Kauai

Date of birth: October 3, 1948

Date of Death: January 26, 1969 (Age: 20)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section C 3

Sgt. Roque Perpetua Jr., U.S. Army

Home of record: Hanapepe, Kauai

Date of birth: December 22, 1934

Date of Death: December 17, 1966 (Age: 31)

Remains recovered and buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

*Awarded the Silver Star

Pfc. Thomas Anthony Salvatore, U.S. Army

Home of record: Waimea, Kauai

Date of birth: December 8, 1949

Date of death: September 6, 1969 (Age: 19)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section D 13

Capt. Miles T. Tanimoto, U.S. Air Force

Home of record: Lawai, Kauai

Date of birth: July 20, 1936

Date of death: July 25, 1966 (Age: 30)

Remains recovered and buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Section H-556

Lance Cpl. Stanley Kamaki Woodward, U.S. Marine Corps

Home of record: Hanalei, Kauai

Date of birth: January 14, 1947

Date of death: February 5, 1968 (Age: 21)

Remains recovered and buried at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery, Section C 7

Brothers in life… Heroes in death… May you rest in eternal peace.


Tony Elliott is a retired U.S. Marine Corps sergeant major, Vietnam veteran, and with the state Office of Veterans’ Services in Lihue.

  1. Pete Antonson November 11, 2017 12:38 pm Reply

    I served in the USAF from 1969 to 1973. I served the entire tour in the USA. I recommend the following book to this author: The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam (1998) is a book by Vietnam veteran and Sociology professor Jerry Lembcke. There are many other sources that debunk the urban legends about soldiers returning from Vietnam. One central fact to consider is that nearly everyone landed at Travis Air Force Base; not UC Berkeley International or some other mythical entry point!
    The other major objection I have with this account is it’s absolutely disgusting partisan fantasy that South Vietnam fell because a Democratic Congress wouldn’t approve increased arms shipments. This is the same kind of thinking that prolonged and escalated this rotten war that massacred so many of my peers FOR NOTHING: “Oh, let’s just send more troops, arms and bombs and we must surely win.” This is a monstrous lie and continues to disrespect the resolve, the strategy, and the result of the Vietnam people’s effort to regain their homeland.

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