Memorials recognize Arkansans who served, perished in Vietnam War
The youngest Arkansans who served in the Vietnam War, which ended 48 years ago, are now senior citizens. They rank as the most deeply aware visitors to the Vietnam veterans memorials displayed across the state.
These monuments have the poignant main purpose of honoring the 592 Arkansans killed and the 15 still listed as missing who served in the heart-wrenching conflict. The fighting took 58,220 American lives in all from 1959 to 1975.
Also saluted by the memorials are all The Natural State men and women who served military duty in Southeast Asia. So are the numerous others stationed elsewhere during those tempestuous years in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
Some sites focus entirely on Vietnam veterans. Others include Vietnam along with other U.S. wars going back to the American Revolution of the late 18th century.
Veterans Day, which falls on Nov. 11, is a fitting time to honor heroes and visit these memorials.
At the southeast corner of the Arkansas state Capitol grounds in Little Rock, all the state’s Vietnam veterans are honored at an impressive monument. Designed by Stephen Gartmann, it is believed to have been the first such memorial on the site of a state Capitol.
For the monument’s dedication in 1987, U.S. Vietnam commander and retired Army Gen. William C. Westmoreland pushed a disabled veteran of the war in a wheelchair during a parade in downtown Little Rock.
Bella Vista is the location for one of the most elaborate memorials in the state. Created by the Veterans Council of Northwest Arkansas, it honors veterans of all U.S. conflicts, from the American Revolution to the present-day war on terrorism. Sixty-three plaques on a curving wall recount all the history; the Vietnam section includes three illustrations of soldiers in combat scenes.
Monuments on courthouse lawns usually list the names of county residents who died in Vietnam. Three Van Buren County men lost in the war are identified on the plaque in Clinton, and two are listed from Conway County at the Morrilton memorial. In Van Buren, the courthouse
monument honors 16 Crawford County war fatalities, while 21 Sebastian County names appear in Fort Smith.
A few memorials carry inscriptions that are almost poetic in their sentiments. This is the wording on the plaque at the entrance to Rogers Executive Airport, where a Vietnam-era jet fighter and combat helicopter suspended on poles add to the military feel of the setting:
“This memorial was erected in memory of the young individuals who went to war as kids and lost their youthful dreams, and some their lives, for a cause — freedom and honor — and came back as men with the horrors of war instilled in every fiber of their being and were never given the respect and honor they so dearly deserved from the public or the United States government.
A wish for peace is embedded in the inscription on the lawn of the Sebastian County Courthouse in Fort Smith. The monument’s message offers this praise to the county’s Vietnam veterans:
“In a controversial, complex and diverse struggle, they answered the call of their country in a manner consistent with the finest traditions of our homeland. Your brothers and sisters pay homage to your efforts and sacrifice in the sincere belief that your sacrifice will one day, ultimately, allow men to live as brothers and peace reign everywhere. We will never forget you.”
Arkansas Vietnam War Project
The memories of Arkansans who served in the Vietnam War are being preserved as oral histories in the Arkansas Vietnam War Project, organized by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. So far, 56 veterans have been interviewed and recorded, according to Brian Robertson, who directs the effort.
“Even though there was a lot of turmoil around the Vietnam War, I think it is important that we not only honor but also remember our veterans’ service,” Robertson says. “The majority of the people who went over there did not ask to be sent there. They were simply doing what their country asked of them.”
The project is seeking more veterans to interview. Anyone who’d like to take part can contact Robertson at
Where to visit the memorials
These are among the cities with monuments honoring Arkansas veterans of the Vietnam War. The locations at courthouses and elsewhere are detailed in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas:
- Bella Vista
- Fort Smith
- Little Rock
- Van Buren