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November/December Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Veterans Benefits Update / PTSD Substance Abuse Committee Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / Constitution Committee Report / Convention Resolution Report / Healthcare Budget Reform / NamJam / South Korean Veterans / Arts of War / Book Review / Books / Membership Notes / Locator / Reunions / 4 Chaplains /

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By Marc Leepson
‘‘It was Hometown U.S.A. welcomes home Vietnam veterans,” VVA President John Rowan said of the two days of events that accompanied the dedication of South Dakota’s Vietnam War Memorial on Saturday, September 16, in the capital city of Pierre. Rowan, along with VVA North Dakota State Council President Dan Stenvold, was among the many special guests at the event, which drew some 32,000 people. South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, the state’s entire congressional delegation—Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth, Republican Sen. John Thune, and Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and former South Dakota Sen. (and World War II veteran) George McGovern—joined thousands of Vietnam veterans, their families, and other spectators for the event.

The festivities began on Friday, September 15. The Traveling Wall, the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that is part of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, was on display, as was a welcome center for visitors. Organizers offered a Find a Buddy Locator Service, a display of the Agent Orange Quilt of Tears, a Fallen Sons and Daughters of South Dakota Remembrance Field, Sky Soldiers Huey Helicopter rides, and a POW/MIA Recovery presentation. The day ended with an evening concert by none other than the Beach Boys.

The Memorial dedication ceremonies began at two o’clock Saturday afternoon, an event, one observer commented, that was “run with military precision.” Adrian Cronauer, the former AFVN radio disk jockey known around the world for his “Good morning, Vietnam” catch phrase, served as emcee. Gov. Rounds greeted Vietnam veterans in the audience with a big “Welcome home.”

Huey helicopters, fighter jets, and a B-1 bomber did a fly-by. There was a 21-gun salute. The Red Leaf Singers Drum Group presented Lakota Sioux songs honoring Vietnam veterans. Country music stars Big & Rich performed their song “Eighth of November,” which honors troops of the 173rd Airborne and was inspired by Vietnam veteran Niles Harris of Deadwood, South Dakota.

The South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial sculpture depicts a larger-than-life, seven-foot-tall Vietnam War soldier with an M-16 in one hand and the dog tags of a fallen comrade in the other. It is the work of Sherri Treeby and Lee Leuning, who also created the South Dakota World War II and Korean War memorials. The three war memorials stand together on the shore of Capitol Lake.

“This statue,” Gov. Rounds said, “is not about a war. It is not about the politics of war. It is not about the history of the war. It is about you, our veterans of the Vietnam War, your honor, your service, and your sacrifices.” South Dakota, the Governor said, “has not forgotten you. America has not forgotten you.”

The ceremonies ended with fireworks and the release of 28,000 balloons, each representing a South Dakotan who served during the Vietnam War. The release included 211 black balloons to honor South Dakotans who perished in the war or remain missing in action

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