South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial Dedication

South Dakota welcomed its Vietnam Veterans home with the South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial dedication held September 15-16, 2006 in the capitol city of Pierre. Hotels and campgrounds in Pierre, neighboring Fort Pierre, and towns for miles around were filled to capacity as Vietnam veterans and their families converged on the city for the dedication. Area residents showed their overwhelming support for the Vietnam veterans by displaying American flags, patriotic banners, and planters of red, white, and blue-violet flowers.

The event opened Friday at the Capitol Complex in Pierre. The displays included “The Wall”, a traveling replica of Washington D.C.’s Vietnam Veterans National Memorial, as well as the Fallen Sons and Daughters of South Dakota Remembrance Field, a field of white markers representing soldiers lost in the Vietnam War.

The Agent Orange Quilt of Tears was also on display. The traveling Quilt is a tribute to those soldiers, both living and dead, who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

A USO tent that served as a Welcome Center and Information Booth, food and souvenir vendors, and a live Vietnam radio show playing Vietnam War-era songs were also set up around the Capitol. A string of 1960s and 1970s muscle cars were entered in a car show at the complex. Vietnam-era helicopters offered free rides to veterans. Counseling services and the Find a Buddy Tent were also on hand to assist Vietnam veterans.

An invitation-only ceremony was held Friday afternoon for Gold Star Mothers and other immediate family members of those who died in Vietnam and those who never came home. The KIA/MIA Family Remembrance ceremony allowed these family members a private early viewing of the South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial.

The Red Willow Band and the Beach Boys performed Friday night. Tickets to this and the following night’s concert were free to Vietnam veterans.

Saturday’s parade kicked off with a procession of three hundred flag-bearing motorcycles weaving a path along Capitol Avenue in Pierre. Hovering above was a Huey helicopter, a symbol of the Vietnam War and visceral reminder to many spectators of the time they spent in Vietnam. The following parade lasted over two hours and had almost 200 entries, including area marching bands, South Dakota National Guard troops, and the honorees of the day, South Dakota Vietnam Veterans.

The South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial statue was unveiled later that afternoon in a ceremony that opened with Adrian Cronauer, the former Armed Forces disc jockey made famous in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam”. The ceremony also featured a Native American song and speaker, fly-bys by military airplanes, fireworks, and the country music duo, Big and Rich, singing “The Eighth of November”, their song about a South Dakota Vietnam veteran.

Governor Mike Rounds also spoke, stating, “It is not about the history of a war, this statue is about you. Our veterans of the Vietnam era, your honor, your service, and your sacrifices.”

The bronze statue is a camouflaged soldier who bears an M16 rifle and wears a backpack and bandolier of ammo. His gaze is on the granite wall bearing the names of the 211 South Dakotans who lost their lives in Vietnam. His hand holds a fallen comrade’s dog tags.

The two-day event ended Saturday evening with performances by the Steve Miller Band and Creedence Clearwater Revisited followed by a fireworks show.

Approximately 32,000 people attended the South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial dedication.

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