A ‘Thank You’ in bronze

VIETNAM — The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument will be dedicated on March 29, and will contain the dog tags of Texans killed or missing in action in Vietnam. — Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument

Local Vietnam vets reflect on services, unveiling of Texas vietnam War monument

By Richard Zowie— To honor the Texas Vietnam War veterans who went and served, those who didn’t return home and those who remain unaccounted for, the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument will be dedicated at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 29, on the 41st anniversary of when the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam.

The event in Austin is free and open to the public.

The monument is at the Texas Capitol grounds in the northeast area. The 14-foot-high bronze sculpture depicts an infantry patrol. It is also accompanied by an online “Living Monument” that features stories of Texans affected by the Vietnam War.

According to the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument website, about half a million Texans served in the Vietnam War. Of those, 3,417 lost their lives —including four from Gillespie County: Daniel M. Gunn, Raymond M. Ottmers Jr., Dennis W. Schonberg and Sammie J. Vollmar.

One hundred and five Texas residents remain missing in action, and 17 Texas service members received the Medal of Honor.

Those Texans who died or are still missing will be personally honored, as their dog tags are entombed in the monument.

Local Vietnam veterans

For area residents who served in Vietnam, the monument will hold significant meaning.

William Tilley Jr. of Fredericksburg served in Vietnam as a major in the Second Battalion of the 5th Marines in the 1st Marine Division in the infantry and eventually retired as a colonel. He served from March 1968 to February 1969 and received a Purple Heart.

“Sometimes you wake up and realize it’s been a long time ago since Vietnam,” Tilley said. “You reflect on the guys you were with that didn’t come home. I knew two or three personally.”

Tilley plans to eventually visit the Austin monument.

Ward Miller served two tours in Vietnam, first as a captain from June 1967 to June 1968 and then as a major from March 1971-1972. Both times, he served with the United States Military Assistance Command, which worked with the South Vietnamese military.

During his time there, he received a Purple Heart. He later was promoted to colonel and retired after 30 years.

The Ohio native, who moved to Fredericksburg 12 years ago, remembers friends of his that he later learned were killed in Vietnam.

“Being in for 30 years is a lot different than having to suddenly return to civilian life,” he said. “When you stay in the Army, you grow with it and it brings you back to a level of importance and respect.”

Miller added that Vietnam monuments, whether the one in Washington, D.C. or the new one in Austin, serve as an important reminder for the younger generation about the sacrifices of war.

David Blake served as a combat engineer captain in the 19th Engineer Battalion. He was in Vietnam from Sept. 16, 1967 until Sept. 15, 1968 and earned a Bronze Star with Valor. He was in Washington, D.C. for the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It’s very emotional,” Blake said about visits to Vietnam memorials. “Now, what goes through my mind is, was it all worth it for all those innocent young people to die for the country we have now, regarding politics? I think our political scene has become very disappointing.”

While Blake is glad to see Vietnam memorials put up, he wonders about the motives behind them.

“I think a lot of Vietnam monuments are put up because of the guilt over how they treated us,” he said. “It’s like they’re trying to make amends. Forgiveness is important, but I’m still skeptical of some of it.”

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