As the blasts of the 21-gun salute faded across the dry gray sky, a military musician began to play Taps on the bugle.
A crowd of 240 veterans and Douglas County community members raised their hands to cover their hearts, salute and wipe tears as Chapter 805 of the Vietnam Veterans of America unveiled the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross memorial Saturday morning in front of the Roseburg VA Medical Center.
The dedication ceremony honored the 57,439 soldiers who were killed in action during the Vietnam War, and the black box-shaped monument decorated with insignia and quotations is accompanied by a statue of a Battlefield Cross.
As the monument explains on one side, “When a service man or woman is lost on the battlefield, it has become customary to arrange their boots, rifle and helmet in the configuration you see before you. The surviving members of their squad will gather around this Battlefield Cross to memorialize their fallen comrades.”
“This Battlefield Cross is for all those brave men and women who never came home,” Mike Eakin, one of the speakers, said to the crowd. “My hope is that the same Battlefield Cross would be out in the national cemetery where it belongs to pay tribute to those people.”
Terry Mooney, president of the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said the memorial is inspiring. He told the story of a veteran who was contemplating suicide, but changed her mind when fellow veterans treated her with kindness and respect. Mooney said the chapter would like to support the VA in helping with suicide prevention and connecting veterans with one another.
Robert Van Norman, a Vietnam Veteran and member of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, came to the ceremony to show his support.
Wearing a hat that read, “Native Veteran,” Van Norman was holding a sacred eagle wing and burning sage.
“We’re honoring a lot of brothers and sisters that aren’t with us anymore that didn’t get to come home,” Van Norman said. “They are truly missed but not forgotten.”
Douglas Paxton, the VA medical center director, said it means a lot to have the memorial at the VA, as it’s a place where veterans find camaraderie.
Paxton also said it’s important to honor Vietnam veterans specifically.
“There’s a special place for Vietnam veterans in history. When they came home, they were treated poorly, they didn’t get many of the benefits and they were not thanked,” Paxton said. He said the memorial is a chance to respect and honor the veterans and recognize the sacrifices they made while serving the country.
“It’s a daily reminder of their sacrifice,” Paxton said.
After “Amazing Grace” sounded from the bagpipes, the veterans and members of the public placed flowers on the Battlefield Cross memorial to pay their respects.