Everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes the Lone Star State's contributions to the Vietnam War. Thousands of young men and women left the farms, ranches, cities, and small towns of Texas to serve in that war half a world away. More than 3,400 never came home.
Since the first farmers and ranchers took up arms to fight for independence in the Texas Revolution, the Lone Star State has had a strong tradition of military service, sending its young men to fight in places like Gettysburg and the Somme, at Normandy and Iwo Jima, and, during the 1960's, to places like la Drang and Khe Sahn. Many were drafted and many volunteered to wear the uniforms of the United States Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard in the Vietnam War.
Though only one in ten Americans deployed in Vietnam was a direct combat veteran, the lack of a clear front and the nature of guerilla warfare combined to put all who served in harm's way. Texans and Texas families paid a heavy cost: 3,417 Texans died in the Vietnam War. Today, 107 Texans remain missing in action in Vietnam.
Though there is no accurate statistic of the exact number of native Texans who served, today an estimated 500,000 Texas residents claim the proud title of Vietnam veteran. Many of them passed through the Lone Star State on their way to the war through the state's major military bases.
Texas civilians also served and sacrificed in the war. Families sent their loved ones to Vietnam, and more than three thousand paid the ultimate price. Texas companies sent civilian employees to serve in contracted support roles to the fighting force, and many young Texas women served as front-line morale boosters in the American Red Cross overseas recreation program as "Donut Dollies".
The most well-known civilian was Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, who served as Commander in Chief during the Vietnam War. Just a few miles from the Texas Capitol where the monument will stand, the LBJ Library chronicles the turbulent presidency of a man promoting domestic improvements in civil rights and universal education while plagued by the growing cost of U.S. blood and treasure as the Vietnam War escalated.
A believer in the Domino Theory of Communism, LBJ continuously expanded American action in Vietnam, "trying to win it just as fast as I can in every way that I know how," but after the Tet Offensive of 1968, he found himself in an increasingly agonizing position as the nation turned against both the president and the war. Despite the controversy, President Johnson, a veteran himself, never forgot the price paid by the individuals called to service. Prior to her death in 2007, his widow Lady Bird Johnson signed on as Honorary Chair of the effort to build a state monument honoring Texas Vietnam veterans.
The soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors of the Vietnam War fought, and sometimes died, just as skillfully and heroically as had their forefathers in other wars. In the end, the nation turned against their war, and tragically, against them as well. Despite the cold shoulder turned to them upon their return; Vietnam veterans determined that their dead brothers would not be forgotten, that the United States would continue to search for its missing, and that never again would a generation of warriors return home to no welcome. An important part of the noble legacy of Vietnam War veterans is a nation that now honors its returning soldiers with open and grateful hearts.
To be continued....