AUSTIN, Texas – I am both honored and humbled to be here today. The dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Monument is a welcome home to our Texas Vietnam Veterans.

We honor the loyalty and the valor of those Texans who served in Vietnam. Having served in the Marine Corp. 3 Battalion 7 Regiment Mike Co., the emotions that I feel are bitter sweet — having lost three high school classmates (Jesus Martinez, Walter Merle Langford, Leonel Buentello) in Vietnam. Vietnam was a controversial war, an unpopular war, where over 58,000 American soldiers were killed and many were MIA or POWs. It was a war that Americans did not understand. They confused the unpopularity of the war with the courage and valor of our soldiers. Because of this, many of us never felt welcomed upon our return home to our own country.

For us Vietnam Veterans, we remember the rice paddies, jungles, and cities of Chu Lai, Da Nang, Huề, Khe Sanh, and of course Saigon to name a few. Every day of my life as I smell the flowers, hear the birds sing, feel the wind and enjoy my freedom, I am grateful and remember my fellow Marines in Vietnam — Anzio an Italiano from the Bronx, New York; two brothers from West Virginia; a blue-eyed son of an Alabama Preacher; Shellhorn, a Bronco Rider from New Mexico; Suarez from El Paso; a couple of farmers from West Texas; a corn husker from Nebraska; and several African Americans from L.A. and Chicago.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa and state Rep. Wayne Smith are pictured with other Vietnam Veterans in front of the new Vietnam Veterans Monument at the state Capitol in Austin.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa and state Rep. Wayne Smith are pictured with other Vietnam Veterans in front of the new Vietnam Veterans Monument at the state Capitol in Austin.

But what was so amazing is how we bonded as a family. We were all Americans, we were united. We stood together ready to fight and die for our country — our freedom. Different races, different religions, different backgrounds and cultures, and different states; yet, we were all the same. We understood that we reflected on what makes our country a great nation — The United States of America!

But who were these soldiers in Vietnam? Many were volunteers, but many were drafted without a choice — taken away from their families to fight a war in an unknown place called Vietnam. These soldiers were us — our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our neighbors, and our friends. They courageously answered the call to serve our country and many died for our freedom and the freedom of others. But Vietnam taught our country a lesson — and that is — always honor and respect our soldiers, their sacrifice and courage, whether fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam or other wars. Throughout our nation’s history it is our families who sacrifice and stand committed to defend our country.

This Vietnam Veterans Monument honors our Texas Vietnam Soldiers – the 3,417 Texans who lost their lives and those of us who came back with scarred memories. Let this Monument heal our wounds and bring closure to our hearts. As long as we honor and remember our soldiers’ sacrifice, they will always be with us in memory and spirit.

This is a very personal and emotional day for me. Seeing the monument unveiled brought chills up my spine. I thank each one of you for the dignity and respect you give not only to those who served in Vietnam but to all our soldiers who have served and continue to serve our country. Welcome Home, Vietnam Warriors, Welcome Home!

Semper Fi. God Bless you all.

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa is Texas state Senator for District 20. A Democrat, he resides in McAllen, Texas. Hinojosa said he proudly co-authored House Concurrent Resolution 36 of the 79th Legislative Session in 2005 authorizing a Vietnam Veterans War monument on the Capitol grounds. Hinojosa then worked to secure funding through a legislative rider in 2011 by obtaining a $500,000 matching grant towards the installment of this historic monument.

Hinojosa also passed legislation in 2009 to declare an official day of recognition specifically for Vietnam Veterans. On March 29, 1973, the last remaining members of the United States armed forces withdrew from Vietnam; thus, March 29 has been declared “Vietnam Veterans Day.”