Poster display at City Hall chronicles Vietnam War
WEST HAVEN, Sept. 19, 2023 — The city and its Vietnam veterans group are presenting a 19-month poster display on the Vietnam War at City Hall, starting this month.
Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon held a White House reception for U.S. prisoners of war from Vietnam. On May 24, Nixon’s namesake library in Yorba Linda, California, observed the homecoming’s golden anniversary — 50 years to the day of the then-president hosting the largest dinner in White House history in honor of the released POWs.
In 1973, 591 of the POWs were released by the North Vietnamese. A half-century later, nearly 200 of them dined in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library’s White House East Room replica and re-created the celebrated dinner, down to the menu items and centerpieces.
To mark the anniversary locally, the city and West Haven Vietnam Veterans Inc. are sponsoring the educational poster series, “A Learning Experience,” to recognize the unwavering courage and selfless sacrifice of the approximately 766 American service members held captive during the Vietnam War, said Dave Ricci, the veterans group’s president.
The series, already underway, will also chronicle nearly every aspect of the war, said Kevin Sullivan, a member of West Haven Vietnam Veterans.
Sullivan said the first poster display, “Native Americans in the Vietnam War,” pays tribute to the war’s most decorated Native American soldier, the late Billy Bob Walkabout, a native Cherokee who lived in West Haven and Montville before his death in 2007 at age 57.
Walkabout was a citizen of the Anishanoi, or Blue Holly Clan, of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
He served in Company F, 58th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and received several U.S. military decorations for valor in combat, including the Distinguished Service Cross — the Army’s second-highest military decoration after the armed forces’ Medal of Honor — along with the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
Many of the decorations were awarded during Walkabout’s “exceptionally valorous actions” on Nov. 20, 1968, during a long-range reconnaissance patrol southwest of Hue.
Walkabout was honorably discharged as a second lieutenant. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
“This two-part poster series will explore some of the accomplishments, the stereotypes, the bravery and the pain that shaped the Native American experience during and after the Vietnam War,” said Vietnam Veterans member Howie Thomas, a member of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe of Kent in the hills of northwestern Connecticut.
“The complete poster series will be presented as a learning experience,” Ricci said. “Posters will be placed and rotated monthly by members of our veterans group.”
The posters will cover much of the wood-paneled walls on City Hall’s first-floor entryway, Ricci said, adding that members of the public will see the displays upon entering the building’s west wing.
In October, the displays will continue with “The POW Experience in the Vietnam War,” a four-poster set commemorating the hundreds of POWS who came home from Vietnam in 1973.
It will follow with “The United States Road to War in Vietnam: 1945-1965” in November and “The U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War” and “The Coast Guard in the Vietnam War” in December.
The 2024 poster displays will kick off in January with “Indigenous Peoples in the Vietnam War,” followed by “Native Americans in the Vietnam War” in February.
The rest of the 2024 displays are:
— March, “African Americans in the Vietnam War.”
— April, “Making the Modern World.”
— May, “Air Base Defense in the Vietnam War.”
— May, “U.S. Army Airmobility in the Vietnam War.”
— June, “Riverine Operations in the Vietnam War.”
— June, “Combat Medicine in the Vietnam War.”
— July, “Military Nurses in the Vietnam War.”
— July, “Medical Advancements in the Vietnam War.”
— August, “U.S. Servicewomen in the Vietnam War.”
— August, “Service Organizations in the Vietnam War.”
— September, “Intelligence in the Vietnam War.”
— October, “Counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War.”
— November, “U.S. Sensor Technology in the Vietnam War.”
— December, “United States Allies in the Vietnam War.”
In January 2025, the displays will continue with “Casualties by Other Means in the Vietnam War,” followed by “The POW Experience in the Vietnam War” in February 2025 and “Reclaiming What Was Lost in the Vietnam War” in March 2025.
The poster series will culminate with the 50th anniversary of National Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29, 2025, Ricci said.