WASHINGTON CITY – In an emotional and patriotic ceremony at Zion Harley Davidson in Washington, the Vietnam Veterans Monument was dedicated Saturday representing the culmination of a dream for many who have tirelessly worked to see it come to fruition.
The morning ceremony was well-attended by veterans, state and local dignitaries and supportive community members who came to pay tribute to the men and women who served the United States during the Vietnam War as the monument was dedicated.
The unique monument contains the names of Vietnam veterans both living and dead and is possibly the only monument in the state that honors those who survived, Vietnam veteran Bruce Raftery said.
For veterans who survived the conflict in Vietnam, the monument provides a sense of closure and acts as a remembrance for the thousands whose lives were affected by the war – sometimes in ways that cannot be seen.
“Some of us came home with physical wounds. A lot more of us came home with mental wounds,” Raftery said. ” … It means a lot. It means a way of not forgetting who we are and what we’ve done.”
“It’s a good thing for the veterans to say ‘hey, they remembered us, finally,'” Raftery said of the monument. “And finally’s good. Finally is better than never.”
Efforts to erect the Vietnam Veterans Monument were spearheaded by St. George resident Judith Cooley, whose husband served three tours in Vietnam and later died of complications due to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam – an herbicide used by the U.S. Military as part of an herbicidal warfare program.
As the wife of a Vietnam veteran, Cooley had seen first hand how the soldiers were treated when they returned home from the unpopular engagement which divided the country in ways not previously seen in the United States.
When Cooley’s husband came home, he got nothing but garbage, she said in a previous interview with St. George News. It was a situation that was all too common for Vietnam veterans who were spit on and called “baby killers” rather than being treated to the heroes’ welcome they deserved.
After over a year of planning and grassroots fundraising, Saturday’s dedication was a dream come true for her.
“It happened,” Cooley said. “They got their welcome home and that’s what it was all about.”
The dedicatory ceremony was emceed by Danny Greathouse, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Southern Utah Chapter 961. Greathouse joined efforts to erect the monument early on in the project but said he initially approached it with some skepticism.
“I had my doubts. I had my doubts with Judy, but it worked,” Greathouse said.
An emotional Greathouse said he was proud to have his name included on the monument.
“I’m very happy it’s here. Very happy,” Greathouse said.
The success of the Vietnam Veterans Monument has made a path for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to be able to erect their own monuments at Zion Harley Davidson as well, Greathouse said.
The ceremony included speakers from area military and veterans organizations, representatives of Gov. Gary Herbert, Rep. Chris Stewart, Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Orrin Hatch. St. George Mayor, Jon Pike, Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson and Hurricane City Mayor John Bramall participated as well.
A flag ceremony was provided by the Utah Dixie Detachment 1270 Marine Corps League and Patriot Guard Riders stood a flag line during the event as well as providing escort to the monument as it was brought to its location Friday.
Zion Harley Davidson is located at 2345 N. Coral Canyon Blvd. in Washington City. There is still room for about 1,000 names on the monument, Greathouse said. Those wishing to add their name or the name of a family member who served in Vietnam can contact Cooley at 435-705-9726.
“My husband is definitely smiling right now,” Cooley said.
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