Vietnam veterans, families, loved ones and people who appreciate veterans turned out in great numbers for the event on the Capitol grounds in Austin.
Joe Galloway, author of “We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young,” was the keynote speaker. Galloway and his wife, Grace, maintain a home in Bayside, Refugio County, and in North Carolina.
The master of ceremonies, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (also a Vietnam veteran) introduced Galloway saying he was awarded the Bronze Star with a V device for valor, the only civilian awarded the medal by the Army during the Vietnam War.
Galloway, as a young journalist, covered some of the hottest, meanest parts of the war, often helping the troops and participating in the fighting.
“There’s a lot of stories out of Vietnam ... lots of good ones,” Galloway said.
But he commented that Vietnam veterans being called “Baby Killers” was wrong.
“That’s not what I saw. That’s not them. I know who they are,” he said.
Galloway referred to Capt. B.T. Collins, who came back from the war after a second tour without one of his legs and one of his arms.
Galloway said Collins addressed veterans’ groups saying “No whining. No crying. We are the fortunate ones.”
Galloway noted that the monument was long overdue. He said maybe Vietnam veterans would get a chance to see it before they die.
“I’ve got to tell you, Vietnam veterans are getting near the end of their string, but we ain’t done yet,” Galloway said.
He said many of the Vietnam veterans need help. They are homeless, without money or a job and many unstable mentally. He added that the group most likely to help the most are veterans.
“They’ve always stepped up and should step up now,” he said after the event.
During the speech, Galloway, facing the crowd of hundreds, said “Thank you for the memorial. Thanks you for the money. You paid for our fallen brothers.”
Patterson, taking the podium again, said, “Thank you ... well said. You must be a writer or something.”
Galloway along with several elected officials and Vietnam veterans participated in breaking ground, and afterward families were invited to turn over the sacred ground. Among them was Beeville County Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez, who fought in Vietnam, too.
Rodriguez said he was honored to have participated in the groundbreaking.
Galloway, after the event, said the monument should be dedicated “probably in February or March next year.”
“It’s been in the works for five or six years. I got involved with a knock on my door in Bayside. It was Pat Nugent,” Galloway said.
Nugent, who was married to Luci Baines Johnson, was a Vietnam veteran asking Galloway to help raise money for the monument.
Galloway talked about his co-author Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who said, “It’s all right to hate war but love warriors.”
“What happened ... was this country disgraced itself. It’s been a long absent ‘Welcome back.’” Galloway recognized some of the veterans he was along side of in the war: Vince Cantu of Refugio; Joe Pena of Port Lavaca; and Miguel Hernandez, who was a longtime fire chief at Chase Naval Air Station until it closed.
A model of the monument sat next to the podium where Galloway spoke. When the monument is finished, it will be 14 feet tall and made of granite and bronze. The monument is being sculptured by western artist Duke Sundt and will be placed on the northeast corner of the Capitol grounds.
Currently, the monument is being finished in a foundry in Bastrop.
The monument will honor more than 500,000 Texans who served in the war and the 3,416 who died serving their country. And it depicts five American ethnic groups who fought in the war.
Galloway also talked about his recent hiring by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to head up the promotion of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
“We’ll get in gear in late 2014. The event will be over 2015-16-17 and -18.
He said they were signing up partners to participate and finance the commemoration.
“The purpose of the commemoration is really to encourage hometowns across America to go all out to welcome Vietnam veterans – the welcome they didn’t get 50 years ago,” he said.
In the meantime, Galloway said he would be back for the monument dedication next year.