The Other Side of Vietnam: Reflection Ceremony Honors Vietnam Vets, SW Houston Style

The Other Side of Vietnam: Reflection Ceremony Honors Vietnam Vets, SW Houston Style
Michael Hoa speaks to veterans at the Vietnam Veterans Reflection Ceremony at Club Creek Park on March 29, 2024.

When Steve Benavides returned to America, he “never talked about” his service in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Veterans of the unpopular war returned home to face scorn rather than respect, so many kept their mouths shut. “People hated us.”

But on March 29, 2024, a reflection ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Southwest Houston's Club Creek Park gave Benavides and other veterans the chance to hear a different story.

Michael Hoa, adopted by a U.S. Navy family in 1975, now a leader in Southwest Houston’s Vietnamese American community, spoke from behind the fluttering American flag draped over the podium. “Men and women sacrificed in Vietnam. Many people here in America say that’s a wrong thing. I want to assure you today—never wrong.” He emphasized each of the last two words with a jerk of his hand. “You were part of us. You became our history. You became our heroes.”

Hoa and other Vietnamese Americans became part of Houston’s history too. Thousands fled Saigon harbor on navy ships when the North Vietnamese Army was capturing the city, and thousands more came to America as “boat people,” fleeing the communist regime on small boats. Others, unable to escape, were eventually granted refugee status in America. Altogether, around 2.3 million Vietnamese people now call America home.

Southwest Houston—especially Sharpstown and Alief—became a haven for thousands of these immigrants, evidenced by the many Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon, Chinatown, and other areas.

It’s a forgotten result of the Vietnam War—a conflict often described as a failure. America pulled out of South Vietnam in 1973, leaving a fragile democracy that fell to the communist North Vietnamese Army two years later.

But defeat is not the only side of the Vietnam story. As roughly ten or twelve veterans sat in a semicircle in front of the memorial, Hoa thanked them—first in Vietnamese, then in English—“for what nearly three million Vietnamese Americans are having today”: life in America. U.S. soldiers were not able to keep Saigon from falling, but they helped bring “Little Saigon” to Southwest Houston.

So when Hoa grew up, he became a social worker at a V.A. hospital so that he could give back to the men and women who gave to him.

Southwest Houston is giving back to Vietnam veterans in other ways. Last May, TIRZ #20 and the City of Houston opened the Houston Vietnam Veterans Memorial with at least 250 people in attendance.

Nearly one year later, the March 29 reflection ceremony honored veterans on National Vietnam War Veterans Day, 51 years after the last American combat troops left Vietnam. Hoa was the most energetic speaker, but others included District J Council Member Edward Pollard and long-time Houston Newsmakers host Khambrel Marshall, whose fathers served in Vietnam. The lineup also included At-Large City Council Member Willie Davis, who served in Vietnam, and Welcome Wilson, Jr., chairman of TIRZ #20.

At least sixty-five people attended the hour-long ceremony, which ended with “Taps.”

Said Steve Benavides, “Seeing them now accept us for what we did…that means a lot to me.”

Last year, Vietnam veterans shared their stories with the Sharpener at the Club Creek memorial. Read more below.

From War to America: Vietnamese Americans Share Stories at the New Houston Vietnam Veterans Memorial
During his seven-year term in a communist “re-education camp,” the only food Dong Nguyen received was one small bowl of rice per day. That’s the story he told on a quiet, 82-degree Memorial Day morning at the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Club Creek Park. Dong and his wife,