Gov. Charlie Baker and other officials hope the memorial will make amends for the snubs Vietnam veterans received in the past.
FALL RIVER — The crowd was filled with public officials, but people like John Carvalho were the real stars Tuesday.
Carvalho, a Fall River native who served in the Army Corps of Engineers in the Vietnam War, recalled not being greeted with a warm welcome when he returned to Massachusetts decades ago.
“You lose friends and you come back from Vietnam and nobody cares,” Carvalho said. “And you can’t wear your uniform because people want to spit on you, so you put your uniform away. You go to work and try to forget all of the things you did. We couldn’t show our emotions.”
But emotions were on full display Tuesday when local veterans gathered at Veterans Memorial Bicentennial Park to break ground on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, a replica of the original in Washington, D.C.
For Carvalho, it was an occasion for healing.
For others, it was a chance to make up for the mistakes of the past.
During his address to the crowd, Gov. Charlie Baker took the opportunity to formally apologize as Massachusetts’ governor for the way state residents were treated after having served in the Vietnam War.
Baker later remarked that he thought the new memorial, which will be an 80% scale replica of the original, will be a place for veterans and families throughout the country to come and pay their respects.
“I give the folks here in Fall River a lot of credit for … winning a competition that was region-wide,” Baker said. “This is basically going to be the wall memorial for Vietnam in New England. I think this is a fitting tribute to the men and women who served and died in Vietnam, but more importantly this is the right place for it, and I give the people in Fall River tremendous credit for making it happen.”
The effort was organized by a group of veterans making up the Fall River Vietnam Memorial Wall committee. Joe Marshall, the committee’s president, said the project began in 2017 and that he hoped it would be completed some time next year.
Marshall also said the planned memorial will help people from far beyond Fall River.
“We got these exclusive rights,” he said. “It’s the only one that’s going to be here in Massachusetts. It’s the only one that’s going to be within 50 miles of this location.”
The names of the more than 58,000 troops killed in the Vietnam War will be featured on the memorial. Of those names, roughly 1,350 were of Massachusetts residents, 21 from Fall River.
The memorial “will stand as a testament so that no person in our community, in our commonwealth or in our country forgets the sacrifices that were made by the 58,000-plus individuals that lost their lives in Vietnam,” Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II said.
Like Governor Baker, Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Affairs Francisco Urena spent a portion of his speech Tuesday trying to make amends for the lack of welcome attending veterans received decades ago.
“Today and every day, make sure that you know that we love you and that you are welcome home in the ways that you weren’t” at the time, he said.
With a proper memorial soon to be built in Fall River, Carvalho said he hoped the monument would teach future generations to look back at his fellow veterans with respect rather than the shame of the past.
“You had to keep everything in back then. That’s the way America made us feel,” he said. “But now they appreciate us and it’s great. My grandchildren were here, and they were so in-tune, listening. It made me feel good.”