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Vietnam veterans open national convention with wreath-laying ceremony

oiner lays wreath for National Vietnam Veterans Day 2019 (DoD/Released)

More than 700 Vietnam-era veterans are in Spokane this week for the Vietnam Veterans of America’s 19th biennial convention, but only a couple of hundred made it up the hill for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Inland Northwest Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Riverfront Park on Tuesday afternoon.

And the ones who did admired the view.

“I love the way he’s sitting out,” Army veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Allen Lynch said to the crowd about the way the memorial’s statue is looking out from atop the hill. “How many times did we do that” in Vietnam?

Lynch was given the Medal of Honor for his actions in 1967, when he stayed behind to rescue three wounded soldiers after others withdrew during a firefight. He will be the convention’s keynote speaker during the opening ceremony Wednesday.

“I think we need to do a lot more of these things to remind people what we did in Vietnam and not let them forget,” Lynch said.

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Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl and Mayor David Condon also spoke at the wreath laying.

“I want to thank you for everything you’ve done and everything you continue to do,” Meidl said.

Condon thanked the veterans for their service in his remarks and acknowledged the difficult trek up the hill for some. Although the local VVA chapter has advocated for moving the memorial near others at the Spokane Arena, Condon said it would likely remain in its central place in the park.

He added that it’s an honor for the VVA convention to be in Spokane. It’s the first time it has been held in Washington.

“Thank you for choosing our city to bring our nation to,” Condon said.

National VVA President John Rowan and Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America President Sharon Hobbs laid down wreaths to honor 300 soldiers from around the Inland Northwest who died and are listed on the memorial.

Walking by the memorial, Army veteran Al Rice of New Jersey pointed to a name etched in the stone: Frederic Miller of Spokane.

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“We went swimming one day, and I was drowning,” Rice said. “He saved my life.”

But two days later, Miller died in a plane crash.

“I’ll never forget him,” Rice said.

Only a few out of the 86 members in the Spokane VVA chapter made it to the ceremony.

“It’s worth the trip,” said Monte MacConnell, who served Marine Corps from 1961-72.

He said he has never been to one of the conventions and valued the experience to meet other veterans from around the country.

“Getting together with a bunch of people that had the same experience I had, you don’t get that very often,” MacConnell said.

Wes Guidry, VVA’s national director of meetings, credited the Spokane Convention Center for finding grants to bring the VVA to Spokane at no cost.

Spokane chapter President John Cooper said it’s fantastic to see veterans welcomed to the city.

“I look at it and see all my veteran brothers,” he said. “They got pushed away for so long.”

Cooper said a member of the local chapter recently died and that he’d like the VVA to amend its bylaws to expand membership to younger veterans rather than close down as its ranks shrink.

“We’re always helping them anyway,” Cooper said. “We’d like to be able to see younger veterans join.”

The convention runs through Saturday evening with speeches, elections for new leadership and other events. The VVA and its local chapters focus on veteran-to-veteran services by connecting them with resources, holding meetings and volunteering.

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© 2019 The Spokesman-Review