Commemorating a 'Complicated' War

By Susan M. Puska, Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)

KANAVA partners with local organizations to honor the under-heralded veterans of Vietnam.

KANAVA partners with local organizations to honor the under-heralded veterans of Vietnam.

Chances are, most Americans have never read a copy of the Legion, the bi-monthly magazine of Canadian military history. But the magazine’s latest cover, emblazoned in bold letters with the word “Vietnam,” could change that.

The current issue features the little-known story of “Canada’s overlooked veterans” — the up to 20,000 soldiers who crossed the border to volunteer in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Like the war itself, their tale is part of a complicated history that divided Americans and Canadians, alike.

“Too often, disagreements over the Vietnam War were personally directed against the Vietnam Veterans themselves, and their service, heroism, and sacrifice were too often overlooked and distorted,” explained U.S. Army Colonel (retired) Susan Puska, President and CEO of Kanava International, who is working with the communities of the Eastern Upper Peninsula in Michigan to honor Vietnam Veterans, including Canadians, and their families at a commemoration event to be held on June 29, 2018 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

To better understand the Vietnam War history, while honoring the service of all Vietnam Era Veterans and their families, communities across the United States have been conducting a series of local events and service learning projects to remember, understand, and honor our Vietnam Veterans through the Vietnam War Commemoration program. The law that directed the U.S. Secretary of Defense to prepare for the commemoration was passed in 2008, while the Presidential decree that launched the Vietnam Commemoration was signed in 2012.

Marking the Anniversary 

Like the Vietnam War itself, which is officially recognized from November 1955 to May 1975, the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War extends across a period of years and recognizes key events along the way. So why 2018? It marks the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, a major turning point of the war.

Before then, American public opinion largely accepted the belief that the Communist Viet Cong was waning and that American losses had already peaked. But the surprise Viet Cong attacks of January 1968, known collectively as the Tet Offensive, showed that the war was likely to be far longer and bloodier than anyone had imagined.

By the time the last U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, nearly 60,000 American service members had been killed, and hundreds more had been taken captive or gone missing. More than a quarter-million civilians died as a result of the conflict.

In recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, partners in the Vietnam Commemoration Program commit to organizing events that show “appreciation for the solemnity of war,” with honoring veterans at the top of the list.

Honoring Little-Known Veterans

That’s why, for the second time, KANAVA International, an official Commemorative Program Partner, is proud to be co-hosting an event to honor American and Canadian veterans of the Vietnam War and their families. The event, which is scheduled for June 29, 2018 will take place in conjunction with the annual Engineer’s Day celebration in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The time and place are not accidental. Engineer’s Day recognizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and one of its most extraordinary achievements: the Soo Locks, which opened the rapids of the St. Mary’s River to navigation during the 19th Century. For the local Native Americans, the Anishinaabeg, this area was an important gathering place called Bahweting.

Many people don’t know that Native Americans across the Great Lakes region and throughout the US volunteered for the Vietnam War at a higher rate, per capita, than any other ethnic group – often serving in the most dangerous combat units.

As visitors take in the locks and look across the river to the sister city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, KANAVA will be joining the Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitors Bureau, Vietnam Veterans of America, the U.S. Coast Guard, American Legion Post 80 of Trout Lake, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and other partners to host an honor ceremony that will bring together veterans from both sides of the border as well as surviving spouses and families.

Recognizing the under-heralded sacrifices made by all who served during the Vietnam War, and their families, is part of KANAVA’s commitment to serving local communities — in the United States and abroad.

To read more about KANAVA and our work, please visit our blog here.

Susan Puska