As more than 100 veterans and other bystanders looked on, a retired Army general recounted Monday why those who served in Vietnam should be proud of their efforts.
The United States didn’t have the success many wanted in the Vietnam War, but former Fort Jackson commander Steve Siegfried said military members did their duty and followed orders.
American and South Vietnamese forces were on their way to winning the war until politicians changed course, said Siegfried, who served two combat tours in Vietnam.
“Everybody here who was in Vietnam ... you won,” Siegfried said during Memorial Day services at the Vietnam monument in downtown Columbia.
Siegfried, a former state Homeland Security chief who now lives in Chapin, said after his talk that America’s quest to win the war was hampered by the nation’s lack of enthusiasm for remaining in Vietnam, as well as the lack of resolve by U.S. political leaders.
“The south could have easily defeated North Vietnam,” he said. “I think it’s important for these folks to know that (the military) went where we were supposed to go, did what we were supposed to do and did a good job.”
Siegfried’s words encouraged Vietnam veterans at Monday’s event in Memorial Park. Some were ridiculed when they returned from the war.
John Bailey, a Columbia resident originally from western North Carolina, said he has never gone out of his way to let people know that he served in Vietnam because of the stigma it carries with some. He enlisted as an 18-year-old out of high school and served much of 1970 there.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that from a person of his stature,” Bailey said of the general’s comments. Said Bailey: “It made me feel good.”
All told, nearly 1,000 South Carolina residents died in the war and several dozen are still listed as missing in action. The Vietnam War ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon after more than a decade of U.S. involvement.
Monday’s event also featured the laying of a wreath, patriotic songs and a bagpiper who played “Amazing Grace” to honor those killed in combat. The mid-day event, held under a warm May sun, was among a range of Memorial Day services in Columbia and across South Carolina, a state with strong ties to the military.
In the capital city, throngs of people walked through Memorial Park, where many of the state’s war monuments are located. The Vietnam monument is a replica of the one in Washington, showing the names of those who died in the conflict.