WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Building a memorial to honor Vietnamese soldiers in the city’s Veterans Memorial Park continues to be a hot-button issue as veterans and Vietnamese community members weigh in.
The Wichita City Council has scheduled a public hearing to discuss a proposed memorial to honor soldiers who fought against communist North Vietnamese forces. That would include U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. Some council members say a decision on the plan, debated for several years, is expected to be delayed.
The proposed memorial would feature both the American and the former Republic of Vietnam flags, and have a sculpture of American and South Vietnamese soldiers together. The Wichita park already has several memorials honoring veterans who fought for the U.S. in various wars.
Opponents of the Vietnamese memorial, including some U.S. veterans, argue that South Vietnam and its flag are no longer recognized because the CIA classifies the country as communist.
“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,” Bob Pinkstaff, a veteran who has been involved in the debate for years, wrote in an e-mail to the City Council.
About 8,000 people with Vietnamese origins live in Wichita.
“They’re now living in this country; they ought to be satisfied that we did take them in,” Pinkstaff said.
Supporters argue many South Vietnamese joined forces with U.S. soldiers during the war, and their efforts should be recognized. The war ended in 1975 when North Vietnamese forces overran Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.
“It’s to remember the South Vietnamese soldiers, the American soldiers and the civilians who all have died during the Vietnam War,” said Kenney Nguyen, of the Vietnamese Community of Wichita, whose father was a captain with the South Vietnamese Army and imprisoned for seven years.
Anh Tran, an associate professor of education at Wichita State University, said in an e-mail that the memorial could become a place to pay tribute to ancestors.
“Even more, the memorial will serve as a healing treatment to those who foster peace for the world,” she wrote.
Council member Janet Miller supports the memorial.
“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.”
Other council members, such as Sue Schlapp, are torn on the issue.
Schlapp said she might try to defer the decision so the two sides can try for a compromise, such as a new location.
“It’s too emotional,” she said. “It’s bringing out some very, very raw nerves.”
Council member Jim Skelton said many veterans he has talked to have changed their minds.
“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.” ♦