The names of William “Bill” Arthur Thompson and Arthur Joseph “Joey” Whitney Jr. come to mind.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy started this week recognizing the ultimate sacrifice of the two Ketchikan men and many other Americans when he declared Monday “Vietnam Veterans Day” in Alaska.
Dunleavy chose the obvious words in describing them: Brave, patriotic, supportive and respectful.
More than 2.7 million American troops went to Vietnam in the nearly 20-year war. Nearly 60,000 died. The wounded exceeded 300,000, and almost 2,000 remain missing.
Americans joined the longest military conflict in U.S. history in the 1950s. America’s involvement ended with the fall of Saigon in South Vietnam on April 30, 1975.
America had joined the Vietnamese fight in an effort to prevent the spread of communism in North Vietnam into South Vietnam. Russia and China provided weapons and all manner of war support to the North, while the United States backed the South.
It’s unsurprising that an undertaking of such length caused great distress among Americans. Americans trying to do what they and many of their fellow countrymen considered was the right thing, responded willingly. Others were drafted.
Still many others in the United States protested; the war was the basis for much civil unrest in the cities and on college campuses in the 1960s and early 1970s. The political divides over the war were equally traumatic.
The end of the war left scars in the hearts and minds of men, in the ranks of the armed services, in the country and with its leadership.
But despite the outcome and what conclusions might be drawn from what came to feel like an endless war, there is no denying the bravery of and appreciation for men like Thompson and Whitney who were willing to defend the vulnerable in the name of democracy.
Corporal Thompson, who was born in Ketchikan in 1949 and graduated from Ketchikan High School in 1967, enlisted in the U.S. Army and requested assignment in Vietnam, where he arrived on Jan. 18, 1968. He died on July 12, 1968 in Pleiku Province, South Vietnam. He is buried in Bayview Cemetery.
Ketchikan’s first Vietnam casualty was Private First Class Whitney, who graduated from Kayhi in 1965 and worked at Ketchikan Pulp Co. until departing to Vietnam. In all, he and his family lived in Ketchikan about 10 years. He is buried in Elko, Nevada, where his family moved to after leaving Ketchikan.
Others from southern Southeast who died in Vietnam include Norman Franklin Ridley of Metlakatla, Charles Edward Brown of Thorne Bay, Clinton Arthur Cook of Hydaburg, David Dee Brown Jr. of Wrangell and Donald Harry Kito of Petersburg.
This week Alaskans remember those who served and died, as well as those who served and returned home from Vietnam. They have our respect.