Lt. Colonel Jon Paladini spoke at the Opening Ceremony for the Vietnam Veteran’s Traveling Wall. The Wall arrived in Prescott on Wednesday, and was set up at Prescott Gateway Mall on Thursday morning. Paladini, who is mostly known in Prescott as the City Attorney, spoke at both the soft opening for the Wall, and the more formal Opening Ceremony held on Friday. His words were moving, spoken with the controlled emotion of one who has experienced war first hand. But mostly, his words were filled with respect and admiration for the Vietnam Veteran, whose call to duty superseded all, too often resulting with their greatest sacrifice of all.
Here is City Attorney Jon Paladini as he makes his remarks. We have provided the text below the video.
"Thank you ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, fellow veterans, and especially veterans of the war in Vietnam. It is a tremendous honor for me to stand before you today as we come together to remember fallen comrades and that important time. The arrival of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Prescott provides an opportunity for us to reflect on this important period in our individual lives and our nation's history. Especially now when we as a country are in our own time of war - a time where forces of tyranny and oppression are actively attempting to defeat our way of life - to defeat the western ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom.
"To the Vietnam veterans here today who were never welcomed home with speeches and bands, and to all those whose name appears on this Wall, you are all heroes. Heroes who faced the issues of this war including your own possible death, and after weighing those concerns against your obligation to your country you decided to serve with honor. You did it not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, but in simple obedience to duty, as you understood it.
"Robert Frost once wrote "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know What I was walling in or walling out". But this wall does not wall in or wall out, rather it brings us all together. The magnificence of this wall is found in its simplicity. Panels of black stone hold not only the names of those killed, but also reflects the faces of all us who stand before it. In that reflection, we should reflect on some truths about you the Vietnam veteran.
"You were not much different than your fathers who served in WWII. Your average age was just under 23 compared to around 25 in WWII. You did not represent the popular image of those who fought in Vietnam, that you were poorly educated, reluctant draftees -- predominantly poor whites and minorities. In reality only one-third of you entered the military through the draft, far lower than the 66 percent drafted in World War 11. And the volunteers accounted for over 70% of combat deaths in Vietnam. You were the best-educated and most egalitarian military force in America's history. In WWII, only 45 percent of the troops had a high school diploma. During the Vietnam War, almost 80 percent of you who enlisted had high school diplomas, and the percentage was higher for draftees -even though, at the time, only 65 percent of military-age males had a high school diploma.
"Throughout the Vietnam era, the average education level of the enlisted man was about 13 years - three times as many college graduates served in Vietnam than in WWII.
"97% of Vietnam-era veterans were honorably discharged - exactly the same rate for the military in the 10 years prior to the war. And we salute you for your honorable service.
"Casualty rates if you were an officer was similar to that of the enlisted man . Proportionally, more officers were killed than in WWII. In Vietnam, we lost twice as many company commanders as we did platoon leaders, confirming that if you were an officer in the Vietnam War, you led from the front.
"The common belief is that the fighting in Vietnam was not as intense as in World War II. Fact The average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years. The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks in part to the mobility of the helicopter.
"You were never defeated in combat. You were defeated on the political battlefield. Where you found the enemy you defeated him. After the Tet Offensive in 1968, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese operating in the south were so soundly defeated that they could not launch another major offensive until 1972.
"Nine million men and women served in the military during the 13 years of the War and three million of those served in the Vietnam theater. You performed with a tenacity and quality that may never be fully appreciated or truly understood. Should anyone think the war was conducted in an incompetent manner they should look at the numbers: Hanoi admits to 1.4 million of its soldiers killed on the battlefield compared to our 58,000, and about 250,000 South Vietnamese. And if someone tries to convince you that Vietnam was "a dirty little war" where Air Force and Navy bombs did all the work, you might remind them that this was the most costly war the grunts of the U.S. Marines Corps ever fought. .. five times as many dead as in WWI, three times as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded that in all of WWII.
"Our Vietnam Veterans represented on this Wall and those at this gathering, chose to serve and answer the call to duty, honor and country. These were "hard choices" and "hard decisions" during the 1960's and 70's. You chose to serve your country when called, rather than the many alternatives that were available. You asked for "nothing" in return, except for the respect of their countrymen. You not only "talked the talk, you walked the walk," and without doubt, you exemplify President Kennedy's words "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." At Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion. This is especially true today, because in our minds and hearts is the memory of Vietnam and all that that conflict meant for those who sacrificed on the field of battle and for their loved ones who suffered here at home.
"This Wall is dedicated to those who gave their last full measure of devotion. It is also dedicated to each and every one of you. This is a place where we, can and must, heal the wounds and heartache caused by the "unpopular" Vietnam War. A place we come to "Remember" and "Honor" the ultimate sacrifices of "America's Best", who are represented here on the Vietnam Wall. This is the time and place to remember our family's and our own sacrifices and commitments.
"We often ask ourselves, why all of these men and women gave their lives for the United States of America, when it became apparent the military would not be allowed to win the war.
"It is because the warrior, the citizen soldier doesn't choose to go to war. He hates war. He doesn't choose where he fights, or where he does his duty. My father and his generation did not choose war. They did not choose to go to North Africa, Italy, the beaches of Normandy or the Pacific. They were told to go and they did. They did their duty and served honorably. And when they came back, they were told "welcome home", "job well done", "thank you for your service". My generation did not choose war. We did not choose to go to Desert Storm, Iraq or Afghanistan. We were told to go and we did. We did our duty and we served honorably. And when we came back we were told "welcome home" "job well done" "thank you for your service". You the Vietnam veteran, you did not choose war. You did not choose to go to Vietnam or Southeast Asia. You were told to go and you did. You did your duty and you served honorably. And now all of us in the City of Prescott, Yavapai County the state of Arizona and all Americans say to you welcome home job well done thank you for your service.
"May God bless each of you, and protect our service men and women and their families, and may God continue to bless this America we love and serve."