Unlike many of the United States’ traditional Cold War allies, Canada never officially joined the U.S. intervention in Vietnam. But while many Americans of draft age fled for Canada to avoid the war, some Canadians came the other way.
Of the thousands of Canadians who became Vietnam veterans, 134 never made it back home. Long after the war ended, Canada’s Parliament failed to pass a bill to build a memorial for those vets who died in service.
Three American Vietnam veterans built one anyway -- with their own money.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation estimates that 20,000-40,000 Canadian citizens crossed the border to join the U.S. Army, hoping to see action in Vietnam. The Canadian Vietnam Veterans Association estimates 12,000 of those enlistees served in combat.
When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in Washington, D.C., in 1982, the names of the 134 Canadians were included on the wall -- along with the 58,145 others who died in the war for a total of 58,279, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
But since the Canadian citizens weren’t wearing the uniform of the Canadian Forces, the legacy of Canadian Vietnam veterans has been in question in Canada ever since the end of the war.
The Canadian government never has acknowledged them. The Royal Canadian Legion, the country’s largest veteran service organization, took almost 20 years to accept them. In 1986, two American Vietnam veterans formed a committee with the goal of building a monument to their Canadian counterparts.
Ric Gidner and Ed Johnson of Michigan originally formed the Canadian Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Committee. They wanted to hold an event to welcome Canadians home, even if it wasn’t on Canadian soil. On July 4, 1989, the committee held a welcome-home parade at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, hoping to raise enough money to build the memorial.
But Gidner and Johnson, joined by Chris Reynolds, were dedicated to erecting a monument to fallen Canadian soldiers, in Canada, by any means necessary. They formed a new committee, the appropriately named MACV -- Michigan Association of Concerned Veterans -- to design, fund and build it.
“How many American sons came home because of a Canadian’s supreme sacrifice?” the group asked.
The MACV formed partnerships with other nonprofit organizations inside Canada, designed the memorial and even secured the same granite used on the American Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall for the Canadian version.
In 1994, a bill was introduced in Parliament that would recognize these veterans and build a memorial, but it failed to pass.
So Gidner, Johnson and Reynolds paid for the entire memorial themselves.
They maxed out their credit cards, liquidated their retirement funds and took out second mortgages on their homes to fund what became known as “The North Wall,” the Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
In 1995, then-Windsor, Ontario, Mayor Michael D. Hurst asked the MACV whether they would build the monument there. They agreed, and the memorial was dedicated on July 2, 1995.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at email@example.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.
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