Utah celebrates Vietnam Veterans Day, locals reflect on lives lost and forever changed
OGDEN — Monday was the official observance of Vietnam Veterans Day both in Utah and nationally.
And a pair of local veterans who’ve long advocated for the service men and women who fought in the war say that, nearly 50 years after it ended, the ramifications of the conflict are still felt today.
Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert designated March 29 Utah Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day in 2014 when he signed House Bill 275. On March 28, 2017, former U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, which officially recognizes March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
The date March 29 is significant because in 1973, that’s when the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam.
The United States was involved in Vietnam for two decades, from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 9 million Americans served in the armed forces during that 20-year period and more than 7 million are still living today. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, 58,220 U.S. soldiers were killed during the Vietnam War. Those deaths include 361 Utahns.
Some 28,000 Utahns fought in Vietnam, and 45,000 Vietnam veterans live in Utah today, according to the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, making them Utah’s largest veteran service-era demographic group.
“I think around this time every year, all Americans should reflect on it,” said Dennis Howland, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. “It was an unpopular war, but we shouldn’t ever forget it. I know all of the veterans who fought over there will have memories of it until the day they check out.”
Howland was integral in the 2014 legislation to designate an official Vietnam Veterans Day in the state. He was also the main driver to raise funds and build a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Layton, at the city’s Commons Park. Approximately 80% the size of the original national Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., the replica wall sits in the northeast corner of the park. The 360-foot-long Davis County memorial features the names — etched in stone — of all 58,000-plus Americans who died fighting in Vietnam.
A ceremony organized by Howland was held at the wall Monday.
Howland joined the Marine Corps shortly after graduating high school and served 17 months in Vietnam from 1966 through 1967. He flew in helicopters, pounded the ground and saw more than his fair share of death. He said each name on the wall has a story behind it, and the families who lost loved ones during the Vietnam War still grieve today.
“There were more than 58,000 who left to serve their country, and their families never saw them again alive,” he said. “That’s significant. And for the ones who did make it back home alive, most of them have had their struggles too.”
Terry Schow, a longtime Ogdenite and Army veteran who served in Vietnam, said many of his fellow Vietnam service members brought the war home with them and could never let it go, dealing with severe post-traumatic stress related to the horror they witnessed in Southeast Asia. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s estimated that at least 30% of all Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Schow said remembering the names on the memorial wall is a given but, like Howland, said it’s also essential not to forget those who came home, but whose lives were forever changed. On Monday, Schow handed out Vietnam Memorial pins at the Ogden American Legion Baker-Merrill Post 9.
“We were fortunate to come home — very, very lucky,” Schow said of his fellow Vietnam War survivors. “But there are still many Vietnam veterans living today and they still need help. So I think that, along with remembering those who lost their lives, is why it’s so important that we formally recognize this war and reflect on it every year.”