Vietnamese Allies Memorial Controversy Heats Up


Wichita council to weigh Vietnamese veterans’ proposed memorialAllied vets seek memorial alongside U.S. vets

EDITORS NOTE:  This story was forwarded by a local American Legion member in Wichita who favors the memorial.  His fellows oppose, some violently.  Why would any real veteran oppose honoring a fallen ally?  Is it racism?

 What started as a quiet plan to put a Vietnamese war memorial at Veterans Park has become an emotional debate over history, honor, race and, of course, politics.

The years-long standoff is expected to come to a head Tuesday when Wichita City Council members could vote whether to allow the memorial or — more likely — hear comments and delay a decision.


Meanwhile, the volley of e-mails, phone calls and evening meetings goes on.

"I will continue to do what I can to halt any and all attempts of any foreign organization, including the Vietnamese, to belittle the sacrifices of the Veterans of the United States of America by foreigners intruding on the sacred ground of Veterans Memorial Park," Bob Pinkstaff, a veteran who has been involved in the debate for years, wrote in an e-mail to the City Council.

Pinkstaff and other veterans contend that South Vietnam and its flag are no longer recognized.

That’s true.

The United States entered the war to try to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam by North Vietnam. Pro-Communist North Vietnamese forces overran the South two years after American troops withdrew in 1973.

The CIA classifies the country as communist.

"They’re now living in this country, they ought to be satisfied that we did take them in," Pinkstaff said.

South Vietnamese fought alongside American troops, and the defeated south’s flag already flies above the Vietnam memorial in Wichita.

Kenney Nguyen’s father, a captain with the South Vietnamese Army, was taken from his wife of three days, imprisoned for seven years, made to work dawn to dusk and hardly fed for taking a stance against communism.

Nguyen, the external vice president for the Vietnamese Community of Wichita, said many South Vietnamese soldiers forsook the communist regime and joined arms with American soldiers.

Their efforts, he said, should be recognized, which is why his group has been raising money for several years to erect a memorial inside the city’s park.

"It’s to remember the South Vietnamese soldiers, the American soldiers and the civilians who all have died during the Vietnam War," Nguyen said.

Anh Tran, an associate professor of education at Wichita State University, wrote in an e-mail that the memorial is an important reminder for future generations to honor and to pay tribute to their ancestors.

"Even more, the Memorial will serve as a healing treatment to those who foster peace for the world," she wrote.

Council members are grappling with the issue.

Janet Miller, a council member who first saw the issue in 2006 as park board president, has supported the memorial.

She said she senses tones of racism in some e-mails she has received and has been criticized for being too politically correct.

"When their country was essentially overrun, they did come to the United States and they became U.S. citizens," she said. "They pay taxes, own businesses, base their families here. The taxes that they pay go toward maintenance of park ground at that park. There are about 8,000 people of Vietnamese origin, the majority of which are U.S. citizens now."

Miller rejects suggestions that the memorial be placed elsewhere, such as in Planeview, where many Vietnamese people live.

"That, to me, is reminiscent of our former separate but equal day, which is a country we rejected a long time ago," she said.

Pinkstaff, who is a Korean War veteran, said that neither he nor anyone he knows believes race is part of the discussion.

He said some people may be trying to make a social issue out of it.

Council member Sue Schlapp is torn and said she may try to defer a decision on the memorial so that the two sides can try again for a compromise — perhaps find a new location for the memorial.

She said the war was divisive for her own family and that many veterans were treated disrespectfully when they returned to America.

She said she doesn’t want them to feel disrespected again, as some veterans have indicated.

The issue is too critical for the council to decide on June 9, she said.

"It’s too emotional," she said. "It’s bringing out some very, very raw nerves."

But some of the emotions may be based on bad information from people misrepresenting each other’s arguments, council member Jim Skelton said.

He said many veterans he has talked to have changed their minds after reading the text of the proposed memorial.

He supports it.

"I see a monument to American soldiers, period. And it’s paid for by American people," he said. "If we’re not going to recognize our allies, we may as well pull all of our allies’ flags down, and I think that would be shameful."

The precedent to honor allies was set when the Korean War Memorial at the park incorporated a plaque acknowledging South Korea’s role in that war. Part of it is in Korean, and the country’s flag flies above it.

Earl Weller and a friend were putting fresh flags up at the Korean memorial recently.

The controversy is no news to them.

"There has been some hard feelings about it," Weller said. "But I’ve got mixed emotions."

He said his main concern is ensuring that the memorial is high quality and well maintained, like the others in the area.

Weller said he thinks that if the council denies the memorial, it should deny all other new memorials as well.

But he said that’s not his call, and he’s glad it’s not.

"There’s going to be people unhappy either way it goes," he said.

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or [email protected].


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