SALT LAKE CITY -- This spring, it looks as though local Vietnam veterans will finally have a day to call their own -- as a signature from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is the final hurdle to clear before March 29 becomes Utah's official "Vietnam War Memorial Day."
On Monday, the Utah Senate voted unanimously to approve House Bill 275, which establishes an official Vietnam Veterans recognition day in Utah.
The bill was spearheaded by Ogden-area Vietnam veteran Dennis Howland and sponsored by Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield. Earlier this month, the bill was also unanimously approved by the House.
"We've been fighting for this, in a lot of ways since we came home from Vietnam," Howland said. "So this is a big day for all Utah Vietnam veterans."
Howland said when many Vietnam veterans returned from war, they were mocked and alienated by their fellow Americans and a day of observance will go a long way in atoning for the treatment some veterans suffered when they returned from the war.
March 29 was chosen as the observance day because on that day in 1973, the last United States combat soldiers left South Vietnam.
Howland, who presides over the Northern Utah chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said he began approaching Utah's Legislature to pass a state measure after a similar bill that would have established a nationwide Vietnam observance day stalled last year in Congress.
Earlier this month, Howland and a group of Top of Utah Vietnam combat veterans spoke to local lawmakers about the importance of passing the bill.
"We just kind of told them what we are trying to accomplish and what this day of recognition would mean to a lot of people," Howland said. "It's got absolutely zero financial impact and it's just the right thing to do -- it's about 50 years too late, but it's still the right thing to do."
On March 29, a special ceremony will be held in the Utah State Capital rotunda.
"We would love to have the rotunda overflowing with local Vietnam veterans when we hold the first official observance ceremony under this bill," Howland said. "This day belongs to them and their families. It belongs to those who came home, those who didn't and those still trying to complete that journey."
Howland said his next mission is to lobby national lawmakers for a national observance day for Vietnam veterans. He urged citizens to contact their U.S. senators and representatives and ask for a national day of observance.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 28,000 Utahns served in Vietnam and more than 50,000 Vietnam Veterans call Utah home today.
Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.