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West Valley City Journal

Vietnamese community commemorates Memorial Day and anniversary of statue.

Jun 23, 2017 11:22AM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

Thao Huynh and Doan Quynh Phan light incense for fallen soldiers at the Vietnamese Community of Utah’s Memorial Day celebration. (Keyra Kristoffersen/City Journals)

By Keyra Kristoffersen | [email protected]

In 2007, a statue was dedicated at the Utah Cultural Celebrations Center in West Valley City of an American soldier standing side by side with a Vietnamese soldier. 

“It’s an honor to applaud veterans of both our countries,” said Dennis Howland, president of the Utah State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “Fifty years ago, we developed a brotherhood and a common mission and that mission today is to honor all the Vietnam vets who served before us, served with us and continue to serve our great countries today.”

The statue was meant to symbolize the partnership between American soldiers and South Vietnamese soldiers to help end the Vietnam Conflict, and was paid for through donations totaling around $50,000 from the Vietnamese community around the Salt Lake valley. Memorial Day weekend is not only a time to remember fallen soldiers around the United States but also the 10th anniversary of the commemoration of that statue. 

“Utah is the third state after California and Texas to build a U.S. Vietnam soldier statue. It’s very special,” said Phan Cong Ton, master of ceremonies and former South Vietnamese marine who was forced into service of the Communist military after the fall of Saigon in April of 1975. After four attempts at escape and five months in a refugee camp in Thailand he was finally reunited with his wife in Utah in 1987.

 “I love here. I love Utah. People here are very nice,” he said. 

Speakers from the community as well as the city were there to offer words of sympathy and acceptance.

Ron C. Bigelow, mayor of West Valley City, said, “It is not where you are born that defines who is an American in their heart. It is defined by your love of liberty, your belief in the right of any free individual to have those same freedoms we now enjoy. It is defined by the sacrifice that you are willing to make for those downtrodden, oppressed, and those lacking in liberty. It is by how we welcome and treat others who love liberty and seek those blessings for their children.”

Members of a Buddhist temple offered prayers, flowers and the burning of incense in memory and celebration to fallen heroes and bowed along with the national anthems of both Vietnam and the United States. 

Doan-Quynh Phan, secretary of the Vietnamese Community of Utah and representative of the Lien Hoa Temple in West Valley, is concerned that too many of the younger generation don’t understand the complexities and severity of the Vietnam Conflict.

“Most of my friends, or the younger generation, they think of the Vietnam War or April 30, it’s just some kind of war in a textbook that they don’t want to learn about.”

Doan-Quynh Phan’s father was in the South Vietnamese Air Force, but was forced into a re-education camp for over seven years when the Communist Party took control. Re-education, she said, is just another word for brainwash. She is working to create more opportunities to involve and educate the next generation about their heritage and roots. 

“People think when we drag up the past, we create more hatred, more separation, but no, that’s not it. We bring it up so we can learn from it. We need to know what went wrong, we might not have a solution, but at least we won’t repeat it again.”

Howland has worked hard to help bridge the gap between Utah Vietnam veterans and the Vietnamese community by inviting them to participate in each other’s events, to show that they can stand shoulder to shoulder in the community to everyone’s advantage. 

“Today is a very special day, a day that we remember, honor and celebrate. We remember those and the lives they gave, those we honor that gave us the right to freedom and liberty, and we remember and celebrate that part of their lives that they were in ours, when they made our lives just a little bit richer,” he said.