Dakota Datebook

Memorial Day 1975

Monday, May 28, 2012


Memorial Day has been around for over one hundred and forty years and each year we gather to pay our respects to those who gave their lives to keep us safe and free. Originally it was named Decoration Day to honor the Civil War dead for keeping us a united country. But thirty-seven years ago on this day America was torn apart by the Vietnam War. Protests and riots rocked the streets and Vietnam veterans were returning home to a less than sympathetic public.


As the people of North Dakota gathered for Memorial Day in 1975, North Vietnamese tanks were rolling through Saigon. Two days later the last Americans were extracted by helicopter as the world watched on television. The United States had lost the war. As the pastor of the Sharon Lutheran Church stated, “We have been defeated in war. Never before have we had to say this on Memorial Day.” A somber, war weary public would mark Memorial Day with scant consideration for its meaning, which is to honor those who lost their lives while fighting for their country. The names of one hundred and ninety-eight North Dakotans would later be inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.


In an editorial, The Forum in Fargo stated that, “Those who fought and died [in Vietnam] had much to overcome: Protests at home, a battlefield that denied delineation, their own doubts about their mission, cynicism and despair. Far from home, they did what they considered their duty…”


South of Mandan at Fort Rice, the Veterans of Foreign Wars ceremoniously fired a volley to honor those who thought freedom and country were important enough to fight for. The Bismarck Tribune stated, “The day memorialized those who served the idea that men are indeed their brother’s keepers and … a few must make the supreme sacrifice that others may live in human dignity.”


So, on this Memorial Day, let’s also remember those who died in Vietnam. Far from home they did what they considered their duty and they paid the supreme price. The end of the war was a result of policy and politics, not lack of courage. As noted in the Forum, “They died at a time when the badge of heroism was grudgingly given.”


Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis




The Forum May 26, 1975

Grand Forks Herald May 27, 1957

The Bismarck Tribune May 24, 1957


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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