Why so few streets named after Vietnam veterans?

June 11, 2011

Junior Cruz of Salt Lake City was 15 when his Eagle Scout Project honored a fallen soldier from our war in Iraq, Adam Galvez.  You can read a stirring story from The Deseret News at Adam Galvez.com.

Junior Cruz, with Cpl. Adam Galvez's parents Tony and Amy Galvez, at Adam Galvez Street in Salt Lake City

Boy Scout Junior Cruz, with Cpl. Adam Galvez's parents Tony and Amy Galvez, at Adam Galvez Street in Salt Lake City

Marines honor fallen comrade Cpl. Adam Galvez, Salt Lake City, 2007

Marines honor their fallen comrade Cpl. Adam Galvez, at the ceremony naming a street after Galvez.7

Once upon a time I might have wondered about the utility of such a project, not because naming a street after a veterans isn’t a great idea, but because the actions required for naming streets might not measure up to the usual expectations for great service in an Eagle project.  This project and the stories about it quickly dispel such worries — for example, notice that the city required Cruz to raise the $2,000 required to change the street signs, such fundraising itself a major accomplishment.  Our son James’s project at the DFW National Cemetery required similar fundraising, and got at least as much in in-kind contributions — but it was major work.

Marines at the naming of Adam Galvez Street, 2007

Marines salute at the ceremony for the naming of Adam Galvez Street, 2007

Reading the news story, I thought back to a question that has plagued me for years:  Why didn’t we have the good sense to welcome back Vietnam vets with parades, and other welcome home activities?  That was one great lesson of Vietnam I think we, as a nation, learned well.  Today national news programs, like the PBS Newshour, honor each fallen soldier in our nation’s wars.  Here in Dallas, and at other cities I suspect, there is a formal volunteer program to make sure soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan deployments get a flag-waving cheer when they get off the airplane.  Churches, schools, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts volunteer to go wave the flags and cheer the soldiers.  The volunteers may get more out of it than the soldiers, but the message is clear all the way around:  These soldier men and women served their nation, and they deserve thanks and a cheer.

Ceremony naming Adam Galvez Street, February 2007

Ceremony naming Adam Galvez Street, February 2007

Is it too late to do that for Vietnam veterans?  A chief complaint over the years, especially from the war-hungry right wing, is that the Vietnam peace movement dishonored those veterans, chiefly by not honoring them more when they came home.

My brother, Wes, served four tours in Southeast Asia in that war, returning each time to no great celebration other than his family’s great gratitude at his return.  He’s too great a patriot to complain — as are most of the other Vietnam vets.  Our periodic patriotic celebrations now do better:  Vietnam vets get honored at July 4 and Veterans’ Day celebrations, and the fallen get special honors on Memorial Day, in most towns in America.

Junior Cruz hit on a great idea, though:  Name a street in honor of the fallen.

Why not do that for more Vietnam vets?  My hometown of Pleasant Grove, Utah, had a population of fewer than 10,000 people during the Vietnam conflict, but well I remember in my high school years when the list of fallen passed 11, including a recently-graduated studentbody president and basketball star and the brother of a woman in my French class.   Neither of them has a memorial other than their gravestone, that I’m aware.

Adam Galvez Street, Salt Lake City, Utah

Adam Galvez Street, Salt Lake City, Utah

Street names can tell us a lot about a town or city.  In the great booming times of 1950s through 1990s, a lot of streets in America were named after developers’ kids, wives and ex-wives.  More recently developers have taken to cutesy names on a theme designed to sell homes:  “Whispering Waters Way,” “Mountain View,” etc.   Those cities where history gets some note in street names do well, I think.  Ogden, Utah, named a bunch of streets after presidents, in order of their service, from Washington through the second Harrison (and as a consequence, a lot of people who grew up in Ogden can name the presidents in order from Washington through almost to Teddy Roosevelt).  New York has not suffered from renaming a stretch of road The Avenue of the Americas, Washington, D.C. has done well with both Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue.

Why not rename some streets in American after Vietnam veterans?  While we’re at it, how about Korean War veterans?  We can’t recapture the time and do what we should have done about 58 years ago for Korea or about 45 years ago for Vietnam.  We can do noble things from now, forward.  Why not create memorials that remind us of the great service these people did for their nation, and name and rename streets in their honor?


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