Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell’s knowledge of both the Vietnam War and the sacrifices servicemen and women works to heal current veterans. As retired U.S. Navy captain and himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, he delivers the keynote address every year to bring awareness to a war that raged 13,000 miles from the American shores.
Although the official National Vietnam War Veterans Day occurred on Thursday, the Northern Nevada community remembered those who served with a ceremony Saturday at Carson City’s Mills Park near the Nevada Vietnam War Memorial. Both Vietnam Veterans of America chapters 388 and 989 from Carson City and Sierra Nevada (Reno), respectively, conducted a wreath-laying ceremony and the reading of 151 names of every Nevadan killed as a result of the war.
President Donald Trump had signed Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 to honor Vietnam veterans on March 29.
During previous speeches, Crowell spoke of veterans who either died during the war or have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. On Saturday, he talked about the prisoners of war in the most inhumane conditions.
“Unbearable to most, our POWs endured some of the cruelest torture methods known to mankind — solitary confinement, malnutrition, rope binds, irons, beatings and constant threat of being killed including being kneeled with a gun to their head if they did not talk to name but a few — and this by a country that had supposedly signed the Geneva Convention,” Crowell said in his remarks.
“The internal code for our POWs was ‘Take physical torture until you are right at the edge of losing your ability to be rational. At that point, lie, do, or say whatever you must do to survive. But you first must take physical torture.’”
Crowell said the North Vietnamese held POWs in at least 14 camps, the most notorious being the Hoa Lo Prison, or better known as the Hanoi Hilton. He said many POWs came home on Feb. 1, 1973, but a staggering number of Americans are still Missing in Action or were killed in action but their bodies were never recovered. As of 2006, Crowell said 1,621 military personnel remain unaccounted.
Local stories of POWs abound including that of Lee Heidenfeldt.
“Lee was captured in South Vietnam. You will notice he is missing his left index finger. That finger was cut off on the day of his capture by his captors when he declined to talk. Lee escaped captivity that night. We are proud to have him as a member of our community.
Until a couple of years ago Carson City also was home to Captain Ray Alcorn. Ray was shot down over North Vietnam on Dec. 20, 1965, flying his A-4 on his 29th mission. As with others Ray was released on Feb. 12, 1973. I know there are folks in the audience who knew Captain Alcorn well — they include Ray Frederick who was a young radioman for the 12th Infantry, of the Red Warriors in 1968 and 1969.”
After Crowell’s speech, the names of each Nevadan killed as a result of the Vietnam War were read, and two buglers from the Nevada Veterans Coalition in Fernley played “Taps.”
Linda Dickinson, president of VVA Chapter 989, said the annual remembrance honors those who served during the Vietnam War.
“The biggest thing is to let veterans know they have not been forgotten,” she said. “Coming here, announcing the names, letting the people know that we respect those who passed and everyone here is recognized and welcomed home.”
Every year the annual ceremony keeps growing through the efforts of both chapters. Dickinson said their goal is to ensure the community knows of the ceremony and how they recognize the Vietnam veterans.
Rick Arnold, past president of VVA 388, also noted this year’s ceremony coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, the biggest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War. Although the United States and its allies won Tet on the ground and beat back the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong, the many skirmishes that covered a six-month period changed public perception.
“Before the Tet Offensive, about 30 (servicemen and women) were killed in action. For every week during the next six months, about 400 were killed per week,” Arnold said. “Over 16,000 were killed in 1968.”
Because of the negative reaction back in the United States, Arnold said President Lyndon Johnson announced in March 1968 he wouldn’t run for re-election, and huge demonstrations sprung up against the war.
“President Nixon ran on ending the war, but it didn’t end for another five years,” Arnold said. “The war was lost in public opinion but not lost on the ground. The North Vietnamese lost many more men.”
Time, though, has healed many of the wounds and feelings that occurred when military personnel returned home more than 40 years ago to either indifferent or angry crowds. Arnold said the increased yearly turnout is nice for the local Vietnam veterans.
“It’s encouraging to see other veterans and the community here,” he said. “We can also see it (community support) when we march in parades and hold ceremonies like this.”