FRANKFORT—In partnership with the federal government, the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs kicked-off on Thursday a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The state plans to honor veterans with similar events across the state through 2025.
“What a beautiful memorial, that sunshine and shadow touches each of their names on the day they died,” said Joe Galloway, an acclaimed war correspondent who was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in the Battle of Ia Drang, where he carried wounded soldiers to safety.
Galloway addresses a crowd of about 500, mostly veterans, many with canes or in wheelchairs. His attention to detail isn’t surprising; as the author of the best-selling war memoir “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” he notes with care the primary feature of Frankfort’s Vietnam War memorial—a gleaming 20-foot sundial scratching skyward, marking with shadow the names etched into the stone plaza of 1,103 Kentucky soldiers who died in the war. Their names are arranged in such a way that, on the date they were killed in action, the dial casts the letters in shadow.
A color photo of 20-year-old Robert Pfeister, clad in crisp military formal dress, rests on the warm plaza next to his own engraving, depicting a grin of magnanimous proportions. His name goes dark on Jan. 10, every year.
Gov. Steve Beshear, himself a Vietnam veteran, said that while he was never deployed into combat, he had many friends who were.
“I was fortunate; I was never ordered into harm’s way,” Beshear said. “But I had a lot of friends who were. A lot of them. And some of them didn’t come back. So to be able to stand here today with you and to thank our Vietnam veterans for their service, for their sacrifice, is especially meaningful, to all of us.”
After the speeches, the crowd gathers near the dial. Beshear placed a wreath on the plaza as a color guard watches over his shoulder, staring out into the distance. And, after a few moments, the ceremony ended, but the legacy remains.