Two soldiers — one American, one South Vietnamese — crouch cautiously, guns at the ready, on a battlefield in the Vietnam War.
That image, captured in an 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture, is part of a new Vietnam War memorial unveiled and dedicated Sunday at Veterans Park in Arlington.
The monument is the culmination of a project started four years ago by leaders of the city’s Vietnamese community, who wanted to honor the service and sacrifice of the South Vietnamese servicemen and of the U.S. military and its allies as well.
“It’s in remembrance of the U.S. and the Vietnamese veterans who fought North Vietnam,” said Peter Dao, co-founder of the nonprofit Heroes of South Vietnam Memorial Foundation.
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The group raised the necessary $500,000 for the project, including a $150,000 contribution from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, as well as monetary donations and other support from Vietnamese and American veterans and Arlington Rotarians.
The memorial foundation plans to donate it to the city, officials said. It will share the 103-acre park at 3600 W. Arkansas Lane with the lone bronze American soldier in the existing veterans memorial.
The Vietnam War memorial is a rarity, unique in North Texas, said Heroes foundation officials.
The Vietnamese-American population grew 38 percent, to 1.54 million, from 2000 to 2010.
The sculptor, Marine Vietnam veteran Mark Austin Byrd, said monuments with variations on the design are in Houston; Orange County, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Florida, as well as several in Australia. All sites are in large Vietnamese populations, Byrd said.
About 58,200 American troops died along with 200,000 to 250,000 South Vietnamese fighters between 1960 and 1975.
For South Vietnamese veterans like Thong “Tom” Bui, a paratrooper with the South Vietnam airborne and now vice president of the Heroes foundation, it goes beyond lost lives. They also wanted to demonstrate their support because of the way many Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home.
Televised images of returning service members being cursed and spat upon still sting Bui, who migrated to the United States in 1975.
“They came to fight for the freedom of South Vietnam,” said Bui, a Cedar Hill resident. “We feel we owe them so much. And when they come home to America, they did not get respect.”
I have a great respect for the Vietnamese. They fought very bravely, and they had troops that were every bit as good as we were.
Sculptor Mark Austin Byrd
Byrd, 70, had a lot more riding on this assignment than his commission. He flew Huey and Cobra helicopter gunships in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, often encountering South Vietnamese soldiers. He wanted his vision for the sculpture to do justice to the relationship.
“I’m very proud of it, and I’m very honored to have been picked,” said the North Dallas sculptor, whose wife, Jenelle, crafted the soldiers’ faces. “I have a great respect for the Vietnamese. They fought very bravely, and they had troops that were every bit as good as we were.”
By the numbers
Arlington Vietnam War memorial
800 pounds: Sculpture’s weight
1,500 pounds: Weight of 4-foot-tall concrete-and-granite base
12 feet: Height of the sculpture and base
Largest Vietnamese populations in U.S. (2010 Census)
2,594,000: Total U.S. troops serving in Vietnam
536,100: Highest number of American troops, peaking in late 1960s
58,220: U.S. military deaths
2 million: Estimated number of civilian deaths
Sources: U.S. Defense Department, American War Library, Encyclopaedia Britannica