The Vietnam War and Virginia

Photograph of General Westmoreland Davis, Vietnam Wing Dedication, Virginia War Memorial, 20 November 1981, Records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission, Box 1, Folder 13, Accession 33938, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia. Today is the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.  On 30 April 1975, Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, fell to the North Vietnamese Army.  The few U.S. Marines stationed at the American Embassy were evacuated by helicopter.  Between 1961 and 1975 over 58,000 U.S. service members died in Vietnam.  According to the Library’s Virginia Military Dead Database 1,490 Virginians were killed in the Vietnam conflict.  To mark the anniversary, the Library would like to highlight items from the state records collection related to Virginia’s role in the war.

The records of the Virginia War Memorial Commission (Accession 33938) contain items related to the construction and dedication of the Vietnam wing.  Included are blueprints, construction records, photographs of the dedication ceremony, program from the 20 November 1981 dedication, Vietnamese money, and a South Vietnamese flag.

Photograph of Bernard Allen Sowder from www.findagrave.com.  Photograph added to site  by Robert Libby on 21 January 2009. The Department of Treasury’s Division of Unclaimed Property records contain two very personal collections.  The Papers of Carol A.S. Amos (Accession 43250, Lot 1192872) include correspondence notifying her of the death of her husband, Bernard Allen Sowder, in Vietnam on 4 January 1970.  Sowder was born on 4 October 1947 in Longbranch, West Virginia.  He married Carol Ann Cassell on 9 April 1969 in Amarillo, Texas.  He started his tour in Vietnam on 24 November 1969 and served in the 167th Signal Company, 54th Signal Battalion, United States Army.  Sowder died in a rocket attack and is buried in Union Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Stuart, Virginia.

The Papers of Doyle Bayes Johnson (Accession 50624, Lot 12659) contains approximately fifty letters written by Johnson to his family in Rocky Mount during his training at Fort Benning and then his service in Vietnam, between August 1969 and October 1970. Most of the letters are addressed to George Doyle Johnson, although the salutations are made out to Mama or Mam. In the letters, Johnson discusses his experiences with skirmishes in Vietnam, interactions with Vietnamese civilians, and everyday life in the base camp. He also maintained an active interest in occurrences at home and requested specific items such as cigarettes, bread, fruit, and camera film.

All of these collections are open for research at the Library of Virginia.  For additional information, please consult Virginia’s Participation in the Viet Nam War, 1961-1975:  Selected Resources in the Library of Virginia,

-Roger Christman and Claire Radcliffe, State Records Archivists

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