Did you know that the first American soldier killed in Vietnam lost his life on Aug. 3, 1950? That was 15 years before the United States began its buildup of forces with the landing of a Marine brigade on March 8, 1965, and the commitment of the Army’s 173d Airborne Brigade on May 7, 1965.
For all of us who lived through the period March 1965 to May 1975, we witnessed a sea-change period in the history of our nation — one that we are still reeling from today. May 12, 1975, marked the last operation associated with the Vietnam War — the recovery of the crew of the USS Mayaguez in the Gulf of Thailand, an operation that saw 18 killed and 49 wounded, most of whom were Marines, and 23 airmen killed in a helicopter crash. The last name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall is Lt. Richard Vandegeer, U.S. Air Force, killed on Koh Tang Island, nearly 25 years after that first KIA.
That first American killed was Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey, U.S. Army, who was shot by the Viet Minh. It was assumed that he was mistaken as a French officer, but he was in Vietnam helping with the recovery of World War II POWs.
President Barack Obama has proclaimed May 28, 2012, through Nov. 11, 2025, as the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The president called on “federal, state and local officials to honor Vietnam veterans, our fallen, our wounded, those unaccounted for, our former prisoners of war, their families, and all who served with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”
The Veterans Day Parade Committee of the greater Boise area is not part of any level of government — we are a grass-roots volunteer organization — but we are focusing our 2015 Veterans Day Parade on Vietnam War veterans. We have asked all of our participating organizations to tone their entry toward saluting our Vietnam War veterans. The float entries of Home Depot, Idaho Power and the BSU Construction Management Club will salute Vietnam veterans; look for them at the parade.
Individual members of Girl and Boy Scout troops in the parade will carry photographs of veterans, and since not all of them have a veteran in their family, they had to locate a veteran and learn something of his or her service. That helps us achieve our secondary parade mission of heightening community understanding and appreciation of the value of military service to the nation, and every veteran has a story of service to tell, whether their service was in direct combat or in some remote and deadly boring assignment.
But this year we focus on U.S. Vietnam War veterans. Our grand marshal superbly represents Vietnam veterans and their post-service contributions to the nation. He is retired Capt. Henry R. Parker, U.S. Army. Capt. Parker is a two-tour Vietnam War veteran who was twice wounded and whose courage and dedication was recognized with the Silver Star Medal and three Bronze Star Medals. His second wound forced his retirement from the Army, but not his service to veterans. From 1979 to 1996 he worked as a program director and supervisory social worker at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Boise.
Please attend the 2015 parade at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday in Downtown Boise. The parade route is Jefferson and Bannock streets between 4th and 10th streets.
And give us your evaluation of the parade by visiting boiseveteransdayparade.org or facebook.com/boiseveteransdayparade. We would appreciate knowing what you think of the parade.
Retired Col. Garrett V. Randel Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, is chairman of the Veterans Day Parade Committee.