Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bill salutes Vietnam vets




jsanders@sacbee.com
Published Monday, Sep. 21, 2009

Thirty-six years after the United States completed the pullout of combat troops from Vietnam , California is on the verge of officially welcoming them home.

Legislation to declare an annual "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day" was passed by the Legislature this month, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign it.
Recognition by the nation's most populous state is expected to add momentum to campaigns nationwide to salute Vietnam veterans.

"It's not about the war," said Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley . "It's about the individuals who fought the war and paid the price."
Schools and state offices would not close on the special day of remembrance, but teachers would be encouraged to conduct "suitable commemorative exercises."
Similar legislation is pending to honor the late San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk with the yearly recognition currently afforded to John Muir, teachers and the California golden poppy.

The American public was deeply split over the Vietnam War, in which 58,000 U.S. troops died and more than 300,000 were wounded.

"I'm not glamorizing war but I think it's imperative for us to remember a group of individuals that has largely been forgotten," said Cook, a Vietnam veteran whose actions earned him a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

Cook's bill, Assembly Bill 717, attracted no organized opposition, but critics question whether designating a day for Vietnam veterans will spark similar requests by veterans of other wars.

Veterans Day and Memorial Day already honor the memory of U.S. troops, and California built a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park more than two decades ago.

John Reiger, a Sacramento peace activist, said he supports giving Vietnam veterans the support services they need to overcome effects of that war.
"At the same time, I'm reluctant to support (AB 717) because it would turn into a pro-military, support-the-Vietnam-War Day," Reiger said.
"I would feel more comfortable if the effort to recognize sacrifices that the Vietnam veterans made were incorporated into the broader Veterans Day," he said.
Jose Ramos, a Vietnam veteran who pushed for introduction of AB 717, said he can remember arriving from Southeast Asia in October 1968 and watching television accounts of the war one day while sitting in a bar.
"(Soldiers) were the bad guys," he said. "It was a total mind-blower."
For the first five years after returning home, Ramos said, "When I went looking for a job, I told people I served in Germany ."
Ramos said Vietnam veterans are aging now, in their late 50s or 60s.
"It really stuck in my craw that we're dying now, and nobody ever said 'thank you' or 'welcome home,' " Ramos said.
Cook, a former Marine Corps infantry officer, remembers being called a "killer" and said someone spit on the face of a close friend.
"We were kind of abandoned when we came back," he said. "I think people didn't want to talk to us ... It really was very, very demoralizing."
The passage of years has not dimmed the hurtful memories – and AB 717 is a long-overdue attempt to ease the pain, Cook said.
" California is finally saying, 'We appreciate what you did,'" he said.
AB 717 does not propose additional spending.
Maggie Coulter, president of Sacramento Area Peace Action, said she would like any day of remembrance to touch upon the full gamut of tragedy from the Vietnam War, including Vietnamese deaths and the legacy of birth defects from chemical weapons.
"This was a sad, tragic mistake of our country's foreign policy and we should do our best to correct the errors, which is to pay Vietnam for the damage we did, take care of our veterans, and to do what we can to prevent this from happening again," Coulter said.
Five Capitol visitors interviewed randomly about AB 717 supported the bill when told of it.
"It wouldn't hurt," said Sarah Pratt, 19.
"Better late than never," said Jason LaFrance, 24.
"I think it would be a good incentive to remember that time – I know they were treated unfairly," said Joel Morin, 55.
AB 717 is nearly identical to a separate Cook bill, AB 264, that was vetoed by Schwarzenegger on Sept. 8 after he threatened to kill any bill until the Legislature tackled water, prison and other key issues.
By amending his proposal into a separate bill, Cook avoided a fight with the governor about the prospect of overriding his veto.
California does not ignore the Vietnam War in classroom studies.
U.S. history curriculum, for example, requires 11th-graders to trace the origins and geopolitical consequences of the Cold War and containment policy, including the Vietnam War, and to examine the 1960s anti-war protests in studying the effects of foreign policy and domestic policy upon each other.


California to welcome Viet vets home, three decades after war
Sacramento Bee
Published Monday, Sep. 21, 2009

SACRAMENTO — Thirty-six years after the United States completed the pullout of combat troops from Vietnam , California is on the verge of officially welcoming them home.

Legislation to declare an annual "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day" was passed by the Legislature this month, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign it.
Recognition by the nation's most populous state is expected to add momentum to campaigns nationwide to salute Vietnam veterans.
"It's not about the war," said Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley . "It's about the individuals who fought the war and paid the price."
Schools and state offices would not close on the special day of remembrance, but teachers would be encouraged to conduct "suitable commemorative exercises."
Similar legislation is pending to honor the late San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk with the yearly recognition currently afforded to John Muir, teachers and the California golden poppy.

The American public was deeply split over the Vietnam War, in which 58,000 U.S. troops died and more than 300,000 were wounded.
"I'm not glamorizing war but I think it's imperative for us to remember a group of individuals that has largely been forgotten," said Cook, a Vietnam veteran whose actions earned him a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
Cook's bill, Assembly Bill 717, attracted no organized opposition, but critics question whether designating a day for Vietnam veterans will spark similar requests by veterans of other wars.

Veterans Day and Memorial Day already honor the memory of U.S. troops, and California built a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park more than two decades ago.

John Reiger, a Sacramento peace activist, said he supports giving Vietnam veterans the support services they need to overcome effects of that war.
"At the same time, I'm reluctant to support (AB 717) because it would turn into a pro-military, support-the-Vietnam-War Day," Reiger said.
Read the full story at sacbee.com.