UWT honors those from Washington killed in Vietnam War

Those who helped place the flags ranged from UWT students passing by in between classes to UWT leadership and local dignitaries: Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier (left group, back row, third from left); Associate Director of UWT’s Veteran and Military Resource Center Rosalynn (“Roz”) Johnson (right group, third from right on the right); UWT’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for External Relations Michael Wark (to the left of Johnson); President of UWT’s Student Veteran Organization Chris Burd (left group, back row, far right) and UWT Associate Director for Alumni Relations Thomas Duke (to the right of Dammeier). Photo courtesy of UWT

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, dozens of volunteers took time out of their day to place 1,047 flags along the Prairie Line Trail through the University of Washington-Tacoma campus to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers in the Vietnam War.

This event was in honor of the upcoming Veterans Day on Nov. 11 and a part of the two-weeks long Veteran Appreciation taking place at all three University of Washington campuses, but the flag display was significant to just UW-Tacoma.

The process began by choosing a number the volunteers could work with. From here, Roz Johnson, associate director of the UWT’s Veteran and Military Resource Center, dug into the archives and found that 1,047 Washington citizens gave their lives in the Vietnam War. This was a number that the volunteers could work with that also had local value.

President of Student Veterans at UW Tacoma Chris Burd stated, “We had a great initial response. We had about 50 volunteers show up, but while we were working students that hadn’t even volunteered would stop between their classes and help.” Assistant Vice Chancellor of External Relations, Mike Wark added, “Each flag represents someone that has died and because of that the students were extremely respectful when placing them in the ground.”

This sort of respect was unheard of when it came to veterans during the time of the Vietnam War, and a large part of why this display was created – to reflect how far we have come, but also how much farther there is to go. Johnson stated, “It wasn’t just for UW-Tacoma. It was for the whole community.” He said that many of the volunteers were amazed by their work once they actually stepped back and observed what their hard work had accomplished.

The flags were placed in rows along the Prairie Line Trail with 30 inches in between rows and about two feet between each flag. Prairie Line Trail is also in what is now the center of UW-Tacoma so that most students will pass the flags going to and from classes. This location and design were used to reflect what it looks like in a national cemetery. This added to the meaning of the flags and really made them even more symbolic.

Burd said, “The design really showed the magnitude of Washington residents that we lost during the Vietnam War, and that was just Washington. Twenty percent of the students and faculty at UW-Tacoma are military connected. They know what the display means. They don’t even have to see the sign, they just know.”

In just a few short days that the flags have been on display many have stopped and commended the volunteers for their hard work.

Burd summed up the flag display and Veterans Day quite well when he said, “If there is one thing to take away from this, it is that it’s important to know not only what a veteran is but who a veteran is. We’re more than someone that comes back from combat with emotional and physical scars. We’re a part of the community too.”

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