On 50th anniversary of Vietnam War’s end, veterans remember those who didn’t come home
March 29, 2023, marked the 50th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, effectively ending what Americans know as the Vietnam War.
But it’s the names — the 58,000 or so of them etched into black stone on a wall in Washington, D.C. — that linger in the memories of the veterans who served there.
Howard Bronder, a Harrison resident who served in Vietnam, remembers the names. He even wrote a nationally acclaimed poem about them.
“Each name is an individual, but each name is part of humanity,” Bronder said.
At Wednesday’s Vietnam Veterans Day service before Pittsburgh’s memorial on the North Shore, Bronder, who served in the Army from 1970 through 1973 and later worked at the Valley News Dispatch, now part of the Tribune-Review, recited his poem.
“What’s in a Name” was inspired by a visit to the traveling Vietnam memorial when it made a stop years ago in Tarentum. Bronder, a published poet, was encouraged to write it by a friend and fellow Valley News Dispatch retiree.
“I was looking for a common thread for the veterans, and it hit me that it was their names,” Bronder said. “Our name makes us an individual as well as part of humanity. The poem just came to me and was easy to write. It is a poem everyone can relate to in their own way.”
It struck such a chord that PBS/WQED selected the poem for inclusion on its “Vietnam Stories” website, a companion to Ken Burns’ award-winning documentary series “The Vietnam War.”
It’s not well-known that a separate Memorial Day exists specifically for Vietnam veterans, a footnote not lost on others attending Wednesday’s service.
“First and foremost, this is our day,” said John Weinheimer, a Vietnam veteran who serves as the vice president of Vietnam Veterans Inc. “We all came from different walks of life, but this binds us all together — we are Vietnam veterans.”
Dozens of veterans and their families gathered for a ceremony that included the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, prayer, a wreath honoring wives whose husbands died in the war and the playing of taps.
Jack Wagner, a Marine who received the Purple Heart for his service in the war, said they wanted to pay tribute to the American casualties of the war, as well as those who were missing in action and all who served.
Wagner served as a member of Pittsburgh City Council and the Pennsylvania Senate before becoming the commonwealth’s auditor general.
Though the Vietnam War ended 50 years ago, he said, it’s imperative that the nation doesn’t forget to recognize its veterans.
“For those of us who served — that’s a long time ago — but in our minds, it really isn’t,” he said. “For the Gold Star mothers and wives and families, it certainly isn’t.”
In a prayer, Pastor Mike Wurschmidt said the veterans gathered to mark the anniversary of the war “remember those great men and women who more than 50 years ago paid the ultimate sacrifice in laying down their lives in service to our country during the Vietnam War.”
“We will never forget the sacrifices of many,” he said.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Anthony Coghill and Allegheny County Councilman Sam DeMarco read proclamations recognizing the veterans.
“Our veterans living and deceased are not and will not be forgotten,” Coghill said.
The service was held at the Vietnam Veterans Monument, which was built by Vietnam veteran T.J. McGarvey to resemble a hibiscus flower, which is “an Asian symbol of rebirth,” Wagner said.
“It is a symbol of welcome home and peace,” Wagner said, adding that the monument is meant to show “we are going to always welcome home those who have stood up and defended democracy in the world.”
For his part, Bronder said he was honored and humbled when asked to read his poem at the service.
“There is poetry in response to all wars. Poets have the ability to pull back the curtain and show the truth.”
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