PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It was during the Vietnam War that Memorial Day became a national holiday, giving the nation a day to honor and reflect on the servicemen and women fighting for the country.
Fifty years ago, in 1973, the final Vietnam veterans came home after fighting in a deadly and controversial war.
But they were not met with celebration, which is why it’s even more important to them to celebrate their brothers and sisters who were killed.
“We can all just honor everybody and respect everybody,” said Army Vietnam vet Nick Trujillo.
“Did we do any good there? Or did we waste a bunch of lives? Hopefully, those men who died didn’t die in vain,” added Army vet Jack Fiddler.
Fiddler is honoring his lieutenant and company commander who were killed in the war, as well as his son-in-law, who is buried at Willamette National Cemetary.
“This is a spot where all Americans can honor our country’s centuries-long tradition of honoring patriots’ willingness to serve and to sacrifice,” said Sen. Ron Wyden.
“If we don’t remember those, then we won’t be remembered,” Fiddler added.
There is an effort to recognize the Gold Star Families whose loved ones were killed and create a memorial at the cemetery as a part of the William Woody Foundation.
“Our Gold Star Families who lost their loved ones in defense of our nation, we owe it to them to pay our respects and reflect on the high cost of freedom they know too well,” said Renaye Murphy, Director of Portland & Anchorage Veterans Affairs Office.
Trujillo saw that cost firsthand. He survived the war, but there were times he wasn’t sure he would.
“(There were) a couple scary parts. I was a radio operator, so I had to guard that with my life and we got in a couple firefights,” he said.
Trujillo remembers coming home after more than 10 months of those fights, coming home to solitude rather than celebration.
“When I came home, I was the only one in the airport and my wife,” he said. “She was the only one there. Today, everybody comes home a hero.”
He and his wife come to this ceremony at Willamette National Cemetary every year, seeing a similar division today as to what he came home to 50 years ago. Trujillo said he hopes there is a light for people to hold onto together.
“We should all stand together and not be divided. I think that’s a big problem. Everybody thinks their opinion should be said and we can have our opinions, but we should still come together,” he said.