Patrick Locke knows the horrors of war. The Army veteran served two tours in Vietnam, during which he was shot three times. On Wednesday morning, he had one message for the Vietnam War veterans sitting in a room at Clark College: We are still healing.
“We were all in different places, there was different things going on … but it was all in a place where there were traumatic things happening, and to experience a healing from that is so important,” Locke said. “It takes all of us to help each other heal from the trauma that we’ve experienced.”
Locke was one of six speakers at an event held Wednesday at Clark College for National Vietnam War Veterans Day. This year, the day commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War.
Speakers discussed the far-reaching effects of the war, including veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and the experience of Southeast Asian refugees in America.
“I think for a lot of people, the war hasn’t ended,” said Mike Burton, vice chairman of the Community Military Appreciation Committee. “A lot of people, a lot of my friends, still carry some of the scars, physical and mental, from this war.”
More than 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War, which officially ended in 1975. At the end of U.S. involvement, there were 2,583 American soldiers unaccounted for, according to the National League of POW/MIA Families. Last year, the organization reported 1,581 Americans are still unaccounted for.
Army veteran Don Super talked about the emotional impact of his involvement in the war. His duties included relaying information on military activity in Laos to the White House and Pentagon, which was used to coordinate daily bombing missions.
“I struggled for decades with the guilt and shame that haunted me, concerning my participation in the ‘secret war,’ and the devastating impacts on the Lao people,” Super said.
Since his service, Super has worked with the national unexploded ordnance program to help dispose of military munitions that were fired but not detonated.
Lee Po Cha, executive director of Portland’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, spoke about his experience leaving Laos as a teenager and living in a refugee camp in Thailand for three years before coming to America in 1978.
“I remember a Laotian community in the city of Portland at the time, and there were only so few of us that had broken English, and can you imagine, having about six or eight people that have broken English trying to help 10 or 12 thousand people?” Po Cha said. “It was not fun.”
In the 20 years after the war, more than 3 million refugees fled from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. More than a million settled in America.
“Even though we have lost our country and lost our land, (refugees) have not lost a good friend in you, and they have not lost a home in the United States,” Po Cha said, specifically addressing the veterans in the room.
After the panel, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and Clark College Board of Trustees Chair Paul Speer dedicated a Turkish black fir tree in front of Cannell Library to Vietnam-era veterans.
Several individuals gave speeches at the ceremony, while an honor guard from the Patriot Guard Riders stood in a perimeter around the tree.
“Today, let’s remind all who served in the conflict that they are still appreciated, they are still honored, they are still respected, and they still are deserving of our deepest gratitude for all they have given through their service, even 50 years later,” McEnerny-Ogle said.