The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument stands as a permanent tribute to the Texans who answered the nation’s call during the Vietnam War, a perpetual honor of their commitment and valor, and an abiding reminder of the lessons they have to teach us – lessons born from Texas blood spilled in the soil of Vietnam.
A vehicle for tribute, remembrance, honor and learning, the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument is rich in symbolism evocative of the diverse ethnicity, service and experience of Texans in the Vietnam War. With the input of Texas Vietnam War veterans, Artist Duke Sundt has created a dramatic and meaningful design to help tell the Texas Vietnam War story and to invite visitors to reflect on the effects of the Vietnam War on the state and its people.
The bronze octagonal monument will rise 14 feet from the northeast Capitol grounds, where it will stand nestled among the live oaks near the Peace Officers Memorial. Above a “sunset red” granite pediment matching the Capitol itself, a series of large bas-relief panels capture scenes that pay tribute to all branches of the military, to combat and combat support operations performed by Texans and their allies in the Vietnam War, and to the South Vietnamese people. Poised above the panels, a set of five infantry figures represents the service and sacrifice of Texas combat troops.
Just as each branch of service and military specialty played a key role in the Vietnam War, the elements come together in a unified tribute to all who served. The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument stands as a permanent reminder of the half million Texas residents who answered the nation’s call during the Vietnam War, a permanent honor of their commitment and valor, and an educational vehicle to help us learn from the lessons they have to teach us.
The portrayal of combat troops of Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American, Native-American and Asian-American heritages makes the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument the first on the Capitol grounds to illustrate the heterogeneity of Texas culture and American military service. It will also be the first Texas Capitol monument equipped with digital technology allowing visitors to use mobile devices to access an educational digital “Living Monument” where they can learn about both the monument’s symbols and the experiences of Texans affected by the war. The “Living Monument” invites veterans, family members, and civilians affected by the war to easily contribute photographs and text to share their stories, which are coded to an interactive map of Texas that illustrates the shared sacrifices of people across the state.
A Monument and a Memorial
The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument pays tribute to all Texans who served, and it also will stand as a permanent memorial to the Texans who died in the Vietnam War. Dog tags engraved with the name, rank, branch of service, hometown and date of loss of each Texan who died in Vietnam will be entombed inside the monument, symbolically surrounded and watched over in perpetuity by the men and women who served alongside them.
I chose to depict the various main branches of service deployed in the Vietnam War in the art form of bas-relief panels that surround the base of the monument. This has been a very successful way to elaborate on the history of that war and to recognize those soldiers who were performing their duties in their specific fields, and the equipment and vehicles they operated at that time.
–Artist Duke Sundt
The Front Panel
At a child’s eye level on the monument’s base, a series of bronze bas-relief panels surround the infantry, symbolizing the essential support the infantry received from all branches of service. At the monument’s front, a seven-foot long panel bears the State Arms of Texas, surrounded by dragons symbolizing North and South Vietnam.
The Helicopter Combat Assault Panel
Vietnam is often called “the helicopter war” due to the widespread use of rotary aircraft to move troops and supplies through the country. Troops were often inserted in helicopter combat assaults like the one depicted in this panel. Most helicopter units were part of the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps, but the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy also used helicopters for specialized missions.
Some 12,000 helicopters were used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War and the majority – 7,013 of them – were Bell UH-1 “Hueys.” Texas’ Bell Helicopter, which built the Huey, was in constant production of aircraft to send to the battle zone, and many military helicopter pilots rotated to Vietnam after training at nearby Fort Wolters, Texas.
As the “lifeline” of the infantry, helicopters were the troops’ ride into and out of combat; their supplier of food, water, and ammunition; and their air ambulance if they were wounded. The crews who served on helicopters faced enormous danger in their support of the combat infantry; more than half of the Huey helicopters that served were destroyed in the war.
The Air Power Panel
This panel pays tribute to the United States Air Force, and depicts the essential aerial support provided to the ground troops by fixed-wing aircraft flown by Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aviators. The panel features three aircraft used in the Vietnam War. The airplane with the propeller is an A-1 Skyraider, which was used extensively to provide support to the ground troops. Below the Skyraider is an A-4 Skyhawk, a carrier-based aircraft flown by Navy and Marine Corps attack pilots. The F-4 Phantam flown by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines was the principal air superiority fighter aircraft used in Vietnam.
Though American ground troops were positioned in South Vietnam, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots flew thousands of aviation missions over North Vietnam to destroy supply lines and bomb the enemy into submission. Several hundred aviators were shot down and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, joining troops captured in South Vietnam and marched to the north where they spent most of a decade in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camps, enduring torture and isolation. The historical record shows that 137 Texans were Prisoners of War during Vietnam. Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio was one of the U.S. installations where some POWs returned home after their long period in captivity.
The United States Air Force also provided medical services to wounded American troops during the war, and many Air Force medics, nurses, flight surgeons, physicians and other medical personnel served to save lives. The largest Air Force facility in country was the 12th USAF Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay, and the airfield there was the primary aeromedical evacuation station for severely wounded American troops, who, after being stabilized in field hospitals in country, were flown to military hospitals in the Philippines and Japan.
The Blue Water Navy Panel
United States Navy ships performed several vital functions in the Vietnam War, including patrolling the coastal waters to intercept supplies, delivering artillery fire support, and providing offshore hospital care for wounded GIs. Many Army and Marine units and their equipment deployed from the United States to Southeast Asia on board Navy ships. U.S. Navy aircraft carriers like the large ship on this panel launched Navy and Marine Corps aviators to support combat troops and conduct bombing missions.
The U.S. Navy also provided primary medical support for the United States Marines, and Navy Corpsmen served on the ground in combat patrols alongside the Marine infantry. Navy Corpsmen and nurses helped save lives onboard the U.S.S. Sanctuary, the famed Navy hospital ship that served in both World War II and Vietnam.
The Artillery Panel
United States Army and Marine Corps artillery forces provided essential cover to the infantry, lobbing large munitions on enemy forces from their positions nearby. The artillery and infantry depended on each other for survival, and artillery forces, like the infantry, served at enormous personal risk. The artillery was most often stationed in extremely remote areas, transported there by helicopters that carried both the troops and their equipment.
This panel depicts the field troops of the artillery positioned just to the rear of the combat patrol forces. They are shown here with the Howitzer guns commonly used in Vietnam. In the sky, the “air artillery” is represented by the highly armed gunship helicopter and the fixed-wing aircraft that could be called in quickly to provide overhead gun support to the infantry.
Women in Service
More than 10,000 American women served in uniform in the Vietnam War, most of them as Army nurses. I have illustrated the nurses in action as they retrieve the wounded soldiers whom the choppers are delivering to the temporary hospital tents in the field. I plan to also illustrate the Donut Dollies in this panel. These outstanding young women have been underrated, in my opinion, in their service to improve injured soldiers’ morale by writing letters home for them, talking with them and in general keeping up their spirits.
–Artist Duke Sundt
This panel pays tribute to the women who served in the military during the Vietnam War. More than 10,000 American women deployed in uniform, most of them as Army nurses and nurses in the Air Force and Navy, but also as intelligence officers and support personnel in all branches of the Armed Forces. The Army nurses who served in field hospitals close to the front were instrumental in helping save many wounded in often horrific and dangerous conditions. Thousands of civilian women also served, including the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreation Overseas “Donut Dollies,” who traveled on helicopters to the front lines to boost troop morale.
Also pictured on this panel is a UH-1 helicopter bearing the Red Cross nose marking that identified it as an unarmed medical evacuation aircraft. Though more than 58,000 – including 3,417 Texans – died in the Vietnam War, nearly a million lives were saved by medical evacuation helicopters, like the Red Cross-marked “Dustoff” featured in this panel. These unarmed Army helicopters carried an onboard medic to care for the wounded during rapid evacuation from the battlefield to field hospitals staffed by medical personnel, many of them Army nurses. All Army medical personnel, including those who pioneered medevac, trained at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, the “Home of Army Medical.”
One in ten Americans who served in the war was a casualty, but a wounded soldier or marine had a more than 90% survival rate, thanks to the helicopter and the line of continuing care provided by the women and men who served in military medical positions.
The Vietnamese Panel
The Texans who served in Vietnam answered their nation’s call to fight on behalf of the freedom of the people of the Republic of South Vietnam, who were fighting the Communist North Vietnamese for the future of their country. This panel illustrates the effects of the war on America’s South Vietnamese allies, who shed blood and suffered the direct effects of the war on their homeland.
Two women, wearing clothing to represent the upper and peasant classes, symbolize the civilian population as they walk toward four Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers, one of whom has been wounded, returning from battle. The iconic water buffalo and the Hmong Temple evoke the bucolic setting of a beautiful nation beset by war, as symbolized by the presence of a B-52 in the sky above.
The South Vietnamese people suffered tremendous military and civilian losses in the war, and ultimately lost their homeland. Many former ARVN soldiers were imprisoned in Communist re-education camps after the fall of South Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled, many migrating to Texas, where they have become a significant and valued part of Texas’ multicultural population.
The Brown Water Navy
This panel captures the service of the “Brown Water” Navy and U.S. Coast Guard forces that patrolled the coastal shorelines and the inland waters of the marshy Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. These sailors played a critical role in intercepting enemy supplies bound from the north to the Viet Cong embedded in the south by traveling into the shallow, marshy waterways where the larger Navy ships could not go.
The Brown Water Navy PCF (Patrol Craft Fast) boats also transported Vietnamese and American forces, including the Navy SEAL teams inserted for special operations in remote areas. As this panel depicts, the Navy had its own specialized helicopter unit, known as “The Seawolves” that flew in support of the Swift Boat and Navy SEAL missions.
The soldiers arranged in a circle signify their purpose to protect each others’ backs while they perform their specific war time jobs. I have researched in depth the gear, uniforms and artillery each is carrying and wearing to be as historically accurate as possible. I also tried to capture the camaraderie among the soldiers that was typically a crucial part of their survival during combat.
–Artist Duke Sundt
The five figures atop the monument, situated in the rubble of an ancient temple, represent the common “Dawn Patrol” experience of the infantry in Vietnam. The five combat figures are 1.25 X life-sized, making the standing soldier seven-feet tall on the 14-foot high monument. Though most American infantry forces were Army and Marines, the Air Force SOG and Navy SEAL special-forces troops also served as ground war fighters.
Representing the core fighting unit of the Vietnam War, the figures have been deliberately crafted to capture the ethnic diversity of the Texans of Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American, Native-American and Asian-American descent who served in the Vietnam War, as well as the allies they fought beside from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Korea, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Montagnard tribes.
The figures are deliberately void of military markings: these are soldiers united not by the threads of uniform but by the blood bond of battle.
The artist has carefully captured the historical details of each infantryman’s specialty:
- The radioman looking to the sky for requested support;
- The medic’s dutiful attention to his wounded comrade;
- The wounded grunt representing the blood shed by Americans and the allies who fought side by side;
- The vigilant rifleman and alert sniper whose faces bear the “thousand yard stare” worn by young men who have seen too much.
The figures sculpture captures a moment just after battle, as the war-weary combatants regroup in wait for the incoming helicopter that will carry them back to the base camp. Underneath, as if symbolically holding them up for eternity, stand the panels representing their fellow Texans, those who served at sea, in the air, on the ground and in the hospitals, always ready to answer their call. And interred beneath, watched over in eternal vigilance, are the dog tags of their fallen brothers, those 3,417 Texas heroes who did not return alive.
For the generation of Texas veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument will stand as a lasting and overdue tribute from the people of their state. Theirs was a divisive and controversial war, and Vietnam veterans mostly returned from it one by one, to a nation that was at best silent and at worst contemptuous of their service: no waving flags or yellow ribbons or public parades met them when they returned. This monument is an important symbol of a long overdue public recognition of and “thank you” to our state’s Vietnam War veterans.
Once, America sent them to war. When it is dedicated on March 29, 2014 the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument will finally and forever welcome them home.