‘Every story is important’: Remembering those lives lost in Vietnam

Catherine Beers-Conrad, whose father was killed during the Vietnam War, said she’s seen the attitudes toward the war and toward the men and women who fought in it shift over the past five decades.

“First of all, it’s something that is now talked about,” Beers-Conrad said. “I would like to think that the general population has a little bit more of a kind attitude towards Vietnam vets” compared to the terrible way they were treated when they came home in the 1970s.

The Dayton Daily News honors all the men and women who risked and sacrificed their lives in service to our country. This Memorial Day, 50 years after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, we are paying special tribute to the lives lost in that war.

Paying tribute to those who served in all wars in which the United States was involved is the mission of the Miami Valley Military History Museum at 4 E. Main St., in Fairborn. Like other wars, Vietnam is highlighted via memorabilia, most of it on donated by people who are local to the Miami Valley area. On display are a plethora of items from the war, including uniforms, a starlight scope, a machete and even a real Medal of Honor.

On each of the museum’s display cases, there’s a small binder with numbers in it relating to every item and telling museum-goers about that item, who owned it or wore it and donated it.

“Our mission is to educate the public by just being here,” said Beers-Conrad, who is spokeswoman for the museum. “You would hope lessons are learned in previous wars, and sadly they’re not.”

By having military objects on display at the museum instead of sitting inside someone’s home, a story can be told, she said.

“Every story is important and when we stop telling people’s stories, that’s where everything just dies,” Beers-Conrad said. “We foster respect for those who served and for Vietnam.”

Sometimes Vietnam veterans who visit the museum see an item that they wore or used during the war, she said.

“I’ve seen some cry,” Beers-Conrad said. “I think it’s a bit overwhelming.”

The museum distributes dime-sized lapel pins issued by the Department of Defense from 2012 to 2015 following a proclamation by President Barack Obama.

“It’s the government’s way of finally saying ‘Thank you. Welcome home,’” she said. “They say on the back ‘A grateful nation thanks and honors you.’ Every Vietnam vet that walks in here, I make sure that they leave with it.”

Beers-Conrad’s father, Master Sergeant Jack Beers, served as a paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, earning the Purple Heart, two bronze stars and Distinguished Service Cross. “His first tour, he was back about 11 months and he told mom, ‘I gotta go back’ (because) his men were going,” she said.

“My mother asked him why the hell he has to go back to war, and his response was ‘to keep it from coming over here,’ referring to communism,” Beers-Conrad said.

Beers was killed April 7, 1969 — Easter weekend — in the Lam Dong province. He was 34 and just four years from retirement.

“I got to meet some of the men who survived that mission,” Beers-Conrad said. “Twenty-five of them went out, 11 were killed.

“Some of the guys I met from that mission, they said ‘All your father could talk about was retirement so he could spend more time with his family.”

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Springfield resident Connie Wilson’s father served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and died in 2011 at age 85.

Wilson said she believes Americans are more aware than they used to be of what Vietnam War veterans went through, but she still isn’t certain if they are truly aware of the full extent of their service and sacrifice.

That’s why today, 50 years after the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, taking time to observe Memorial Day remains important, Wilson said.

“As a military brat, I think that all of our military should be honored,” she said.

“They’re out there risking their lives and no matter what political affiliation you are, that has nothing to do with the people who are out there, awake every night out there on the frontlines, so we don’t have to be.”

There were 385 servicemembers from our nine-county region of southwest Ohio killed in Vietnam, according to The National Archives. Read a full list of their names in today’s newspaper.

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