SAN JOSE (KPIX) — The Vietnamese community in San Jose unveiled a new memorial at History Park Saturday to honor soldiers who, 50 years ago, fought back against Communist forces even as the United States was abandoning its allies in the country.
In 1972, with the U.S. moving out of the country, North Vietnamese forces overran the provincial capital of Quang Tri and its ancient stone citadel. The army of the south fought back against overwhelming odds and, after three months, recaptured the fortress.
“They erected the flag and that is the image of the soldiers erecting the flag over the Quang Tri Citadel, signifying the victory that was hard-fought throughout that battle,” said memorial organizer Sam Ho.
Reminiscent of Iwo Jima, the image of soldiers raising a flag over the Citadel is cast in bronze on the Quang Tri Victory Monument. It is a source of tremendous pride for those who still wear their uniforms from those bygone days.
“It means that, at the time when the U.S was abandoning its allies in the Vietnam War, we fought back with what we had and we won against the overwhelming enemy forces. That is the significance of that battle,” said Lan Quoc Nguyen, a Quang Tri Memorial board member.
7,700 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the battle and 18,000 North Vietnamese troops also perished.
Without U.S. ground support, the war was ultimately lost and, ever since, the South Vietnamese army has been criticized in movies and the media as being uncommitted fighters.
“The stories are not only unfair but I think it’s extremely insulting and we need to tell this story,” Ho said.
That’s what the memorial is meant to do — remember those at Quang Tri, who continued the struggle, on their own without help or supplies. Kristin Hong, a young Vietnamese-American student, said the courage shown in that moment and every moment since is a source of inspiration to her generation.
“We were able to persevere and get to where we are now, even if that meant a lot of hardship,” she said. “But we were able to get here and go through so much just to have a brighter future for ourselves.”
Nguyen says that, after the war, there was some bitterness about the way the U.S. left but Vietnamese-Americans have since shown the strength to forgive and move on.
“We should remember the past but look forward to the future,” he said. “To learn to be independent, to learn to be on our own.”
The memorial was originally approved to be erected in Westminster in Southern California but the city’s support for the project was later abandoned. Instead, the city of San Jose was approached, took up the cause and, within months, arranged for its construction.