by Heather Cline Hoganson
“Through more than a decade of conflict that tested the fabric of our Nation, the service of our men and women in uniform stood true. …Yet, in one of the war’s most profound tragedies, many of these men and women came home to be shunned or neglected — to face treatment unbefitting their courage and a welcome unworthy of their example.We must never let this happen again. Today, we reaffirm one of our most fundamental obligations:to show all who have worn the uniform of the United States the respect and dignity they deserve, and to honor their sacrifice by serving them as well as they served us.”
President Barrack Obama
Presidential Proclamation 2012-03-29
On the 50th Anniversary of the official end of the Vietnam War, President Barrack Obama proclaimed March 29, 2012 as Vietnam Veterans Day and called “upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities…” In 2017, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, Public Law No. 115-15 to add “National Vietnam War Veterans Day, March 29” to section 6(d) of the title 4 of the United States Code, the section that lists when flags should be displayed.1
To honor the Vietnam veterans who are lawyers in the Sacramento area, Justice Fred Morrison (ret.) – himself a Vietnam veteran – organized a luncheon on March 29, 2018, the first anniversary of the law. He called his friends Emmett Mahle and Tom Knox, also Vietnam veterans, to create a celebration on the anniversary where they could “tell war stories” and appreciate having their own recognition day. From there, “one thing led to another” with the SCBA handling logistics and the Del Paso County Club graciously donating one of its rooms. Thus, this event emerged, complete with speakers Mike McGowan and Judge David Abbott. A slide show of in-country photos taken by Norm Hile played as an accompaniment to the event. Red Cross volunteer Barbara Haukedalen contributed P-38s, which are the openers for C-rations, as a reminder of the haute cuisine provided to soldiers by Uncle Sam and a memento of this occasion. She also brought a map of Vietnam, and attendees attached their names with pushpins to the areas of Southeast Asia where they served. As Justice Morrison remarked, Red Cross volunteers provided a female touch of home to soldiers – in serving coffee and doughnuts to help troop morale, they were referred to affectionately as “Donut Dollys.” Tom Knox agreed and said “God bless them all.” Present were all branches of service, with the eldest statesman in attendance being retired Brigadier General Jed “Skip” Scully, now Professor Emeritus at Pacific McGeorge. When Justice Morrison mentioned “former Marines,” Thomas Fowler respectfully “objected” to the characterization, “there may be a dead Marine, but there is never a ‘former’ Marine.” Semper Fi!
Mike McGowan spoke about the things he learned as a Marine, which included the filling of a lot of sandbags, resourcefulness to the point of larceny in obtaining food to share with his fellow Marines, the telling of tall tales (which assisted him later as a trial lawyer and politician), and the putting of service above self. He said it was his duty to make life better for others, his debt to those “that didn’t make it home.” He explained that his responsibility to make real the promise of the 58,000 lives left behind was partially based on the fact that “we left Vietnam, but Vietnam has never left us.”
Judge David Abbott, who served during the Vietnam years as a Marine Corps prosecutor and defense attorney, presides over the Veterans’ Treatment Court, established in 2014 to provide an alternative to veterans who plead guilty or no contest to committing non-violent, non-felony crimes due to brain injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, sexual trauma, substance abuse, or mental health problems connected to their military service.2 Judge Abbott reports that Sacramento’s recidivism rate after completion of the 18-month Veterans’ Treatment Court program is “almost zero,” a win for the individual and for society. Judge Abbott thanked the mentors in this program, including Vietnam veterans Kent Wyatt and Jim Anwyl, who also attended the luncheon, and encouraged others to volunteer to be mentors as well.
While this country loses Vietnam veterans daily (estimates are that 500 per day die), it now has an official recognition day to thank those that remain for their service and honor the sacrifices made by all who served.
1 The others include: Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May; Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May; National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, July 27; Navy Day, October 27; and Veterans Day, November 11.
2 See Forgotten Heroes, No More, Sacramento Lawyer, vol. 118, no. 1 (Jan/Feb 2017), p. 22.