Thank-yous were hard to come by for soldiers returning home 50 years ago from the Vietnam War, speakers noted. A nation divided by politics didn’t do right by those who fought, those who were wounded and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The handsome memorial unveiled Sunday can’t make up for those long-ago slights, but it will remind people every day of the gratitude felt by the region, state and nation for those who serve in uniform.
The memorial, located in front of the Blandin Street headquarters of the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority, features a larger-than-life sculpture of a Vietnam-era soldier and tablets listing the names of 61 troops from MetroWest communities killed in combat or who died later as the result of wounds received in Vietnam. Several hundred people came out to help dedicate the memorial, as did a dozen color guards, a quintet of bagpipers, a Blackhawk helicopter and the National Lancers, a ceremonial cavalry troop based in Framingham.
State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who was instrumental in obtaining funding for the memorial, reflected on the controversy that surrounded America’s engagement in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. “In hindsight, we can see what a mistake is was to judge soldiers by the popularity of the war in which they served, rather than thanking them for their sacrifice,” she said. Spilka and others recognized the leadership of Ed Carr, a Vietnam veteran who is director of the MWRTA, in getting the memorial built, but Carr characteristically demurred. Just as Jim Cuddy, also a Vietnam Veteran, was describing Carr as a “visionary leader,” Carr interrupted with a whispered reminder, picked up by the microphone, that “it’s not about Ed.”
The dedication ceremony kept the focus where it should be: on the troops who served and the ones who never made it home. Peggy Griffin told the story of her husband, Charlie Sabatier Jr., whose name is one of the 61 listed on the memorial. Charlie was hit by a bullet during the Tet Offensive in 1968, she said, paralyzing him from the waist down. Sabatier became an advocate for disabled people in general and disabled veterans in particular, but he never got over his Vietnam wounds, which led to his death in 2009. Like veterans of all wars, he deserved recognition for his sacrifice.
“They need you to remember,” Griffin said. “We all do.”
The new memorial, sculpted by Natick native Jeff Buccacio, will be a constant reminder to all who see it – and especially to active duty troops and veterans – that MetroWest remembers their service, and thanks them for it.