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Construction underway of replica Vietnam Memorial Wall in Layton

SALT LAKE CITY — Dennis Howland, president of the Utah chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America served as a Marine in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1967.

When he returned home, he "made promises" to his friends that he would remind the world that "all Vietnam veterans served with integrity and honor."

A replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall being build in Layton this year by the Vietnam Veterans of America is a fulfillment of one of those promises, he said Thursday.

On National Vietnam War Veterans Day Thursday, Howland organized and hosted a memorial service for war veterans at the state Capitol and announced details about the Vietnam Memorial Wall replica going up on the north end of Layton.

Several weeks ago, construction on the wall began in Layton's Commons Park. It will be dedicated on July 14. A tribute to Bob Hope, who performed in Vietnam for the troops, will be held afterward and will be open to the public.

Howland said the wall going up in Layton is 83 percent of the size of the one in Washington, D.C. It will have eight benches honoring the eight women who lost their lives in Vietnam as nurses on the front.

It was a struggle for Vietnam veterans to win the respect of their nation. The war deeply divided America, and a lot of that bitterness was taken out on the veterans. But the passing years and the Vietnam veterans themselves have changed that, Howland said.

"(But) I think we've moved on to a new war and a new problem and a new generation of chaotic politics," he said.

In 2014, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation, HB275, observing March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day in Utah, becoming the 21st state to do so. There were 47 states who observed the day in honor of Vietnam veterans by the time President Donald Trump made March 29 a national observance in 2017.

March 29, 1973, was the last day that U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam.

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, was the state representative who Howland asked to sponsor the bill that Gov. Herbert signed in 2014. Oda spoke at the service on Thursday.

Oda told the Deseret News that Vietnam was the "worst war from the standpoint of patriotism" that he had ever seen. He explained that the civilians, because they didn't support the war, took a lot of their frustration out on the troops.

"To me, that's unpatriotic," Oda said, adding that some troops coming back from Vietnam were greeted in many places in the United States by being spit upon and called names.

It was so bad, according to Oda, the veterans were told by the military, "as soon as you land, you will not be wearing a uniform. You will not be carrying any of your military gear. We will send those home. You are going to go off ship wearing civilian clothing, and if you have to, buy a wig."

Oda said he's glad that the majority of the U.S. population today seems to understand that the troops put their lives on the line to serve their country and keep it free. He said if the disdain for our armed servicemen and servicewomen ever gets as bad as it was during the Vietnam era, "those people ought to be chastised right out of this country."

Vyron Dowdle, who lives in Ogden, is a Vietnam veteran from Iowa who is on disability because of the effects of his handling of Agent Orange during the war.

Dowdle said the Ogden chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, the 1079, secured the funds to build the wall in Layton. The city donated the land. It will be built on a 2-foot high foundation. There will be a kiosk on the side with a list of all the names and where to find them. Dowdle said he has six friends whose names are on the wall in D.C.

When the Vietnam Veterans of America was trying to get the Utah Legislature to pass HB275 in 2014, Dowdle said they were only expecting 250 men. But over 1,000 showed up from all around the western United States.

"We love it," Dowdle said. "We love our brothers and we take care of them the very best that we can."

Howland said he hopes people honor March 29 each year by putting a flag out on their lawn or shaking a veteran's hand.

"One of the greatest things (Utahns) can do for a Vietnam veteran … (is) just walk up and say, 'Hey, thank you and welcome home,'" Howland said. "It was something that took our country 40 years to say to us."

Nearly 28,000 Utahns served in the Vietnam War, and today Utah is home to about 47,000 Vietnam veterans from around the country.