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Guest Opinion | Remarks at the Dedication of the Pasadena Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Published on Monday, May 25, 2020 | 4:52 am

Throughout the Crown City there are several war memorials. Here in Memorial Park there is a statue and plaque in memory of those who fought in the Civil War. At the intersection of Orange Grove and Colorado there is the Defenders Parkway Monument in honor of those who served in all wars up to World War I and at that same location the Memorial Flagpole in honor of those who served our country in the First World War. Victory Park is a memorial to those who died in World War II. But it wasn’t until 1993 that the City of Pasadena honored the men and women of this community who served our country during the Vietnam War.

The Pasadena Vietnam Veterans Memorial was conceived in 1988 when a group of graying warriors who worked for the City of Pasadena were called upon to accept one final mission of their military service: restore the memory of those who didn’t return to the city they once called home. Their mission needed no explanation to them. For if your country ever trained you to go into combat there was always the unspoken promise that should you fall your comrades would carry you to safety. Americans do not leave their wounded nor their dead behind.

There are 31 names inscribed on the monument. And since the dedication of the monument on Veterans Day in 1993, the rotunda at City Hall became in many ways hallowed ground as family, friends, and veterans have gathered there from time to time for both public and private remembrances. Flowers were often times left at the base of the Memorial. Sometimes candles were left burning. Poignant notes were written and left there. Each of the 31 names are going to be read. I want to briefly tell you about a few of them.

*Some had made the military their career. Master Sgt. Thomas J. Sanchez was one. “Top” Sanchez was born in Pasadena and was a Golden Gloves boxing champion at John Muir High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1950 and was awarded the Bronze Star with three clusters for bravery in Korea. He went on to become a member of the legendary Green Berets. He was killed in action on March 6, 1967 and posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

*Another career military person from Pasadena remains missing in action. Colonel James L. Carter, United States Air Force. On February 3, 1966, he was a pilot on a combat airlift support mission to the Khe Sahn Special Forces Camp. His aircraft and crew were declared missing in action when they did not return to their base at Da Nang.

*Some demonstrated the potential to make the military their career. Like First Lieutenant Mark Enari, United States Army. He was a paratrooper, a superb leader who had served as a staff officer at Officer Candidate School. He once told a group of newly commissioned officers “Ensure that you as a leader are ever ready to stand the test both in battle and in peace.” In 1966 he was serving as a platoon leader with the 4th Infantry Division. It was their mission to seek out North Vietnamese Divisions that had infiltrated across the Cambodian border. Enari routinely led his platoon on “search and destroy” missions, the term given to operations that would seek out heavily entrenched enemy units and assault their fortified positions. On December 2, 1966, Enari led his platoon in an assault on one of these positions concealed in an area of dense trees. As the platoon advanced, heavy automatic weapons fire erupted from bunkers hidden at the base of the tree line. As the battle raged, Enari was continually subjected to intense enemy fire while commanding the operation. In the heat of the fire fight, five soldiers were wounded and pinned down in an open area by machine gun fire. Realizing that his men would die without cover and medical attention, Mark Enari stormed the machine gun nest with a furious barrage of fire. During his single-handed assault, he was struck by both sniper and machine gun rounds but continued his attack in defense of the wounded. He pushed forward until succumbing to his wounds; he finally slumped to the ground. As a result of his action, the five men were saved. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor. The base camp of the 4th Infantry Division was named in his honor “Camp Enari.”

*But most did not intend to make the military a career. Like the first from Pasadena to fall, an African-American, Private First Class William J. Phillips, United States Army, who died in a plane crash on January 25, 1966. He had won a trophy for body building and had demonstrated artistic ability. He was with the Seventh Regiment, First Cavalry, and in one of his last letters home told his mother, “It’s hell here.”

*Michael D’Aiello, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. His regimental motto is “Honor and Country.” Posthumously awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for gallantry in action against the enemy near Chu Lai. He had been in Vietnam only 3 weeks before he was killed.

*Lance Corporal David Paul Zimmerman, U.S. Marine Corps. Born in Pasadena. A Little League and Pony League baseball and football player who went on to play varsity baseball and football in High School. Killed in action while leading a patrol near Khe Sahn on April 21, 1968. He was 19 years old.

*Sgt. David M. Cash, United States Army. A squad leader with Company D, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. Killed in action on February 15, 1968 while leading a patrol 30 miles north of the Demilitarized Zone. In a letter to his family he told them of his dislike for the war but added, “I am a good soldier and I must stand up and deliver.”

*Army PFC Chester Goins killed while manning his howitzer during an intense North Vietnamese rocket and mortar attack at Landing Zone Jaime. He was a member of A Battery, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery, known as the “Hard Chargers.” His battalion crest carries the motto “Striving To The Highest”. The creed of the Hard Chargers is “No One is Forgotten, No One Is Left Behind.” He is remembered every year at his units annual reunion.

*Some were graduates of private schools in Pasadena like Army Specialist 4 Edward M. Shelton, Jr., La Salle High School class of 1964. The brother of a Catholic priest, he was killed in action on April 30, 1968 when his mechanized infantry unit engaged enemy forces in Bien Hoa province.

*Marine Corporal Patrick J. Lavelle, killed in action near Saigon on February 21, 1968. An honors graduate from high school, he turned down a four year scholarship to college, choosing instead to fulfill his military obligation to his country first. After finishing boot camp he also turned down an opportunity to go to Officers Candidate School, electing to remain with his friends as an enlisted man. Just prior to this death, after more than a year in Vietnam, he wrote to his mother that all but three of his friends in his outfit had been killed by the enemy. He was 19 years old.

*And Charles P. Girard, United States Army. The football player who scored the winning touchdown. He enlisted at 17, became a helicopter crew chief and earned the Bronze Star for bravery. After completing a tour of duty in Vietnam he volunteered for a second. And then on March 9, 1969, volunteered for the hazardous mission that took his life at 19, just 6 days before he was due to return home.

William Gladstone once wrote: “Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”

Tradition has a special meaning for us in Pasadena. We recognize and appreciate achievements that ennoble mankind and elevate human spirit. We hold commemorative services for the dead because it reminds us of their sacrifice. But, remembering is not enough, we must hold their brave commitments high as a shining example for all to follow. Their sacrifice has not, and cannot, have been in vain.

It took a long time for Pasadena to honor the Veterans of the Vietnam War. The wounds of that war upon our society took a long time to heal. The divisions in our country that it caused continue to resonate. We also know that, for some, the family will never be whole again. The loss of a loved one can never really be forgotten. The empty seat at the family table can never be filled again.

This Memorial was intended by those who conceived it to honor the warrior not the war. This memorial is meant to honor and remember: honor the courage, sacrifice, and devotion to duty and country of our Vietnam Veterans; and remember those who gave their lives and those who remain missing. I believe that we can all agree that the Vietnam War raised questions that, if answered earlier, would have prevented greater loss of life. One question, however, that should never have been raised, was the character of the American fighting man and woman who served in that conflict. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the conflict, the deep discord it engendered in America, and the great debate about the mission, the people who served in that war were also — and unfairly — questioned.

Not all Americans readily understood that love of country, home and family was the ultimate motivator for the thousands of Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen who lost their lives or were wounded in Vietnam. They were not interested in Washington’s explanations of national policy, geo-strategic concerns, containment, or other ideological explanations for the war they fought. They were there to fight for their country, and they did, with honor, distinction, and in keeping with the proud traditions of their particular branch of service, their individual units, and our country.

An old Armenian proverb explains a person’s worth as a human being this way: “It is not how you live, but what you choose to die for.”

The 31 Pasadena sons whose names are inscribed on this Monument came from all walks of life, of diverse backgrounds, of various ethnic heritage. And through the great miracle of what we call the American dream, they came together to fight under Old Glory for one ideal: The United States of America. They each gave their all to defend their home, their family, their country.

When this city unveiled this memorial to the dead and the missing, we also acknowledged the living who honor those who have gone before them. We honored the best sons of Pasadena and their families and thanked them for sharing their bravery with us. In turn, we promised never to forget them, and their heroism. Let us all here today renew that promise never to forget them, and their heroism, and ensure that their memory and their contribution to our city and our country will live forever.

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One thought on “Guest Opinion | Remarks at the Dedication of the Pasadena Vietnam Veterans Memorial

  • The Girard family is still around Pasadena. They are an unusually gifted family – the loss of Chuck was profound for them. Lovely Mrs. Girard carried her sorrow to the grave.