By: Miranda Collette
SALT LAKE CITY – A very somber mood hung over the economic development and workforce committee this morning, Feb. 18, as senators, representatives and war veterans all testified of their unique experiences and tragic memories of the Vietnam War.
Rep. Oda, R-Clearfield, proposed HB275 second substitute, a modified bill which would create an annual recognition day for veterans from the Vietnam War on March 29 — this date is significant because it represents the last day soldiers came back from the war.
Oda explained that the bill was personally important to him because of all the friends he lost in the war.
“I’ve got one dear friend that I go hunting and fishing with that has a metal plate in his head, “ said Oda. “I was able to get him a black hawk ride and he said, ‘You know the last time I was in a chopper was on my back look at the ceiling.’”
In the 1960’s, 8.6 percent of Utah’s population of eligible young men, or 27,910 soldiers were sent to Vietnam to serve. An estimated 50,000 veterans still live in Utah today.
Dennis Howland, President of Northern Utah Vietnam Veterans of America, spent eight years in the Marine Corps during Vietnam. He said he believes that HB275 is a bill that is long passed due.
“We go after a lot of benefits from our legislatures, but I come to you this morning to ask for honor … it’s something they earned, its something they deserve,” said Howland.
Sen. Reid, R-Ogden, and Sen. Jones, D-Salt Lake, gave emotional testimonies about some of the people they know who served and died in the war.
Sen. Jones recounted her brother’s experiences in Vietnam and how that has affected him.
“I know there are many problems with PTSD and mental health and emotional health … I think this day will be important, I think it will be important to set aside and say a special thank you, “ said Jones, “It’s greatly delayed, delayed in saying thank you to these wonderful men and women and families that dedicated their lives.”
Ronald Mortensen, who served in the US Air Force for two and a half years as a service man, said “I don’t want to see them treated as victims. [This day would] celebrate what they’ve done, and everything they’ve done and even if someone has struggled they’ve made it, they’ve made it through life and they’ve raised families and they’ve succeeded. “
Howland expressed that if the bill passes his next goal would be some type of ceremonial signing at the State Capitol, for which he would make an attempt to gather all 50,000 Utah veterans.
“Our target date for that signing will be March 29,” said Howland. “We asked for an effective date in our bill so that we [wouldn't] have to wait a year, between now and a year form now we will lose 100,000 Vietnam vets that’ll die … we don’t want them to wait any longer to feel the appreciation from the state of Utah and this country that owes them.”
The bill was passed unanimously by the senate. If the governor decides to sign the bill Utah will become the 23rdstate to create a permanent day of observance for U.S. Vietnam War Veterans.