At least eight Durango High School graduates left Southwest Colorado for Vietnam as a member of the United States military, and for all Tom Moreno knows, all eight of his fellow alumni came back.
But not everyone did.
Of the 8.74 million Americans who served in the Vietnam War, 58,220 men and women died, according to U.S. Defense Casualty Analysis System. More than 300,000 people serving in the United States armed forces were injured in Vietnam from 1964 to 1973, more than half of whom required in-patient care, according to federal statistics.
Moreno, a Durango native, joined about two dozen others Saturday morning at the Vietnam Memorial in Iris Park to remember those who gave their lives, their health and their youth to serve in a war that became infamous. Men and women followed a color guard, walking in pairs along the Animas River Trail to the middle of the Schneider Park footbridge.
A prayer was said for the lost. Encouragement was given to the surviving. A wreath was tossed into the Animas River in remembrance of fallen American soldiers of all wars.
The Vietnam war, for some Americans, embodied a social, political and humanitarian catastrophe.
DHS graduate, Durango resident and Vietnam veteran Wayne Dale said people acted vitriolic toward him as he walked through the airport in a United States Army paratrooper uniform at the time of the war. He jumped 13 times.
Vietnam veteran David Martinez, a Durango native and current resident, said the war ended on an “unpopular note” and it took “many, many years” for him and his comrades in arms to acknowledge and be proud of their service. Instead, Vietnam War veterans “silently remembered,” he said.
“There’s no reason to forget,” he said.
Martinez, Dale and Moreno are all part of the Durango High School Vietnam Veterans Association, an organization started by Vietnam War veterans who graduated from DHS and has since expanded to welcome veterans of all American wars, regardless of where they went to secondary school.
The group is raising money for a Vietnam veterans memorial bench at DHS. The plan is to build it with a plaque to honor the service of past members of the United States armed forces and recognize the valor and courage of young people who accept the call to military service.
“A lot of us got drafted or joined, but when we heard the call, we did the best we could to the best of our knowledge,” Martinez said. “Durango High School has produced some outstanding vets, and I’m sure it will continue to.”
To support Durango High School Vietnam Veterans Association, call David Martinez at 946-0610.