Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Vietnam War was the first in which the United States military relied heavily on helicopters for transportation and combat. These pilots and crew members touched every aspect of efforts during the war, serving as transportation for soldiers and civilians, and providing critical battlefield support.

However, before last month, there was no national monument inside Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) honoring the heroic efforts of the nearly 5,000 pilots and crew member casualties from what has commonly become known as the “Helicopter War.” These fallen heroes account for nearly 10 percent of all Vietnam casualties.

Efforts to place a monument in ANC began in April 2015, the year of the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War, when the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) submitted a proposal for a monument to be placed in ANC. However, the former Secretary of the Army declined the association’s proposal and instead granted a tree marker, even though this has never been used to honor a common sacrifice of this magnitude.

Immediately following the Secretary’s decision, a constituent of mine brought the VHPA’s efforts to my attention. After learning that the application process had failed these veterans, I was honored to work alongside the VHPA to advance their effort through the legislative process.

During the 114th Congress, I introduced H.R. 4298, the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Memorial Act. This bill, which would have directed the Secretary of the Army to place a monument within the cemetery, successfully passed the House but was not taken up in the Senate before the end of last Congress.

Maintaining my commitment to advancing this effort, similar legislation was reintroduced in February 2017 as H.R. 887. Shortly after the introduction of this bill, the incoming executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries reached out to the VHPA, and a compromise was agreed upon to place a monument near the location where the VHPA dedicated a tree in August 2015.

Measuring 22 inches high, 21 inches deep and 32 inches wide, the monument contains all design elements of the original Vietnam Helicopter Pilot and Crew Member Monument first proposed to the Secretary of the Army.

In April, I had the opportunity to attend the dedication ceremony at ANC to witness the unveiling of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot and Crew Member Monument. It was a humbling experience to speak before a crowd of 3,400 spectators, a group that included Vietnam helicopter pilots and crew members, their families, members of the VHPA, the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association (VHCMA), members of Congress, and several others who worked tirelessly over the last three years to properly recognize this tremendous joint sacrifice.

In the history of America’s Profession of Arms, these veterans represented their generations in a way that is second to none. They combined cutting-edge technology, the warrior-spirit, patriotism, and bravery in the face of enemy fire in a way that is uniquely American and merits the honor they received last month after waiting more than 40 years.

I would like to thank everyone involved in this effort for teaming up with me to support such a deserving group of veterans, particularly Mr. William Dennison, the constituent who first alerted my office in April 2015 of the efforts to place a commemorative monument in ANC. I would also like to recognize Rep. Ralph Abraham, Louisiana Republican, who is a pilot, member of the House Committee on Armed Services, and someone who was instrumental in helping advance this issue through the House during the 114th Congress.

Other special thanks go to my former Veterans’ Affairs legislative assistant, Ms. Lauren Billman, for all of her hard work on this issue, and to Ms. Kelly Dixon, director of legislative operations for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for working alongside my office last Congress to get this effort moving. Together, we were able to successfully shine the spotlight on a group of true American heroes.

Finally, I would like to thank Ms. Karen Durham-Aguilera, who recently assumed the post of executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries, for making this a priority and whose leadership was essential in arriving at a favorable and appropriate decision. Not only does this monument properly recognize these deserving veterans, but it creates a commemorative space that will allow the memories of those lost to live on for generations.

Republican Rep. Mark E. Amodei is serving in his fourth term and represents Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District. He serves on the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; and the Legislative Branch.

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