As bullets landed three feet from his foxhole in Vietnam, Dave Rich’s comrades merely joked about staying away from the hot spot.
Rich, a Vietnam veteran, said’Nam was a different world than the one he lives in now. He has a home in Coon Rapids and has two daughters with his wife Judy, one of whom attends the University.
But Rich and more than 500 others gathered to remember that previous life Monday at the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. The attendees paid their respects to all the nation’s veterans.
Rich, who left for Vietnam in 1965, compared his experience to that of a student going to college — with some exceptions.
“Everyone goes to college,” Rich said. “Some go to the U of M; others go to the University of Hard Knocks.”
While former soldiers gave speeches and sang songs, children kept themselves cool by splashing in the memorial’s shallow waters. Veterans holding prisoner-of-war and American flags lined the walkway of the monument while color guards fired their rifles into the air. Many from the crowd removed their hats as the presentation concluded with “Taps.”
People have gathered at the site outside the state capitol since 1992 when the Vietnam Memorial was dedicated to Minnesota’s veterans who gave their lives for the country. The monument lists the names of every known Minnesotan who died in Vietnam.
“To me that’s a dean’s list of guys who paid the ultimate price for college,” Rich said.
The top of the black marble memorial reads, “We were young. We have died. Remember us.”
While appreciative of the turnout, some at the gathering said more people should have attended to show their respect.
“People are going out fishing and other crap,” said Doc Feller, an army veteran who went to Vietnam in 1968.
Thirty years ago, at the age of 17, Feller sneaked into the army. Because he wasn’t 18, Feller lied about his age on the application.
Feller frequents the memorial almost every Sunday. He vows to remember the fallen soldiers, saying that losing a soldier is like losing a brother.
Bill Bluestone echoed Feller’s statements. He spent 12 years in Vietnam from 1960 to 1971 — five of which were as a POW. He weighed 185 pounds when he was first captured. After escaping five years later, he had lost more than 100 pounds.
“They beat the living hell out of me,” Bluestone said.
Many soldiers said the indifference shown by today’s citizens have left veterans with a deep sense of bitterness.
“These soldiers died in vain,” Feller said. “They died for jack.”