The Vietnam controversy, again

Posted on August 11, 2012


Thirty-seven years after it ended, the Vietnam War continues to generate controversy. The latest outbreak is playing out on the Texas Capitol grounds.

Last Sunday, I wrote about progress on the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument, scheduled to be dedicated next year. I noted a recent change in which a South Vietnamese soldier in the original design is being replaced by an Asian American U.S. soldier.

It’s a change that has deeply upset some people who had been involved in the planning, including Texas’ only Vietnamese American state lawmaker.

Robert Floyd, a lobbyist, Vietnam vet and driving force on the project, said the change was made as the project “evolved.” The South Vietnamese soldier was included when it was more of a “Vietnam War monument,” he said, and removed when it became a monument to Vietnam War vets from Texas.

“We thought it would be better to have an Asian American soldier” than a South Vietnamese soldier, Floyd said, adding, though, that he did not think it was “improper” to have the latter. Floyd is executive chairman of the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument committee.

Austinite Nancy Bui was president of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation when she was in on the early planning and now is upset that fundraising in the Vietnamese community was done based on the statue that included the South Vietnamese soldier.

“I think Americans came to Vietnam to fight to help the South Vietnamese fight for their freedom. If you don’t have a Vietnamese soldier in there, the war doesn’t mean anything,” she said, adding that including the South Vietnamese soldier helps avoid the notion of the U.S. as an invading force.

Bui, whose husband, Trien Bui, was a South Vietnamese soldier, came to the U.S. in 1975 and to Austin in 1984.

Also upset is Houston dentist Alvin Vieu Nguyen, who said he gave $1,000 and raised money for the statue when it included the South Vietnamese soldier. “The Vietnamese soldier,” he told me, “is fighting against the communists and protecting the freedom (of South Vietnamese people) and was an ally with the United States.” Nguyen said he believes the change came because somebody in authority thought the Vietnamese American community was not donating sufficient money for the monument.

“It is an insult,” he said of the change.

Floyd denied that the change was related to fundraising in the Vietnamese American community, though he said that amount “probably wouldn’t even be 1 percent” of funds raised.

“There was some criticism early on” from people “that didn’t think there ought to be a Vietnamese person on there,” Floyd said.

Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, told Floyd in a recent letter he wants the South Vietnamese soldier restored. In the letter, Vo noted the seated figure had been described on the monument committee website as “a wounded Vietnamese Ranger representing the wounds and punishment that the people of South Vietnam suffered during America’s longest war. He is receiving blood, from an African-American medic. The aid being given to the wounded Ranger symbolizes the aid given and U.S. blood shed to help the South Vietnamese forces and its people.”

In the updated design, the figure is described as “a wounded Asian-American Ranger.”

Vo wants to know when the change was made and who approved it. “Furthermore,” he wrote, “I would like to submit my disappointment for not being included in this process, in spite of my role as a member of the advisory council. These changes significantly alter the monument, removing an important symbolic element concerning the suffering of the Vietnamese, the kindness and heroism of the Texans who came to their aid and the friendship between these two great people. I think this is a mistake.”

Floyd has not yet responded to Vo.

Here’s something else to mull. It comes from Austinite James Valentine, who opposes the change and has a local friend who served in the South Vietnamese military.

“He has raised his children in Texas and is himself a Texan by any definition,” Valentine said. “The fact that he served as an ally and not in the U.S. Army should not exempt him from recognition. … These Texans served but were not yet Texans. It is a shame not to acknowledge them.”

Perhaps if there’d never been a South Vietnamese soldier on the monument there might not have been a clamor to include one. But there was, so now we have a controversy. And why should anything about Vietnam be without controversy?

“It’s very difficult to take the politics out of a very political war,” Floyd said.

This image shows detail of the Vietnam veteran’s monument planned for the Capitol grounds.

Ken Herman

Posted in: Politics