Vietnam veterans in Warren’s City Hall atrium Sept. 30 stand by memorial panels honoring service members from Michigan killed or still listed as missing in action in Vietnam.

Vietnam veterans in Warren’s City Hall atrium Sept. 30 stand by memorial panels honoring service members from Michigan killed or still listed as missing in action in Vietnam.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Vietnam memorial honors those who died, didn’t return

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 4, 2019


WARREN — More than a dozen Vietnam veterans gathered in the atrium of Warren City Hall Sept. 30 to pay tribute to their fellow service members who couldn’t be there because they didn’t come back.

The price of America’s military commitment in Southeast Asia was steep. There were 58,220 American fatalities recorded across a theater of war that included Laos, Cambodia, China, North Vietnam, South Vietnam and Thailand. The first death was recorded on June 8, 1956.

Michigan paid the seventh-highest price of all the states, with 2,654 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and guardsmen killed or still listed as missing in action.

Their names can be found on the Michigan Vietnam Veterans Traveling Memorial, which was on display at Warren City Hall from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6. The display was made possible by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 154, based in Clinton Township.

The group serves as the caretaker for the project, created in 2005 by Staff Sgt. Kurt Damrow, of the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. Damrow was assisted by his friend and co-worker John Swanson, a Vietnam veteran who provided the technical expertise that helped create the memorial’s five panels.

“We travel all over Michigan. It’s going on 14 years now,” said Gary Sox, 73, of Sterling Heights, a member of VVA Chapter 154 and a Marine who served as a combat engineer in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966.

“It helps us talk to veterans,” Sox said. “It’s more than just a memorial. We’re here for veterans and we’re here for the families.”

Bill Theut, 72, of Macomb Township, has family ties to Center Line and grew up in Utica before joining the Marines at 17. He served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966 and took part in Operation Starlight, the first major offensive conducted solely by the U.S. military during the conflict.

“When we weren’t in offensive operations, we were defending perimeters,” Theut said. “After the first night, you know you’re on their turf. They could see in the dark and we couldn’t. It was their home. You pretty much figure you weren’t coming home, so you did what you had to do and just got that out of your mind and did the best you could.”

Theut said he hadn’t traveled to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., until three years ago.

“To go to Washington, D.C., to visit the wall was very, very, very hard. To go down to the wall and see the guys who were killed in Starlight, and other guys and friends that I lost that should have came home with me and didn’t, I don’t think there’s anyone who went to Vietnam and fought that didn’t come home with post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t care who they are,” Theut said.

The memorial also includes displays honoring Michigan’s Vietnam-era Medal of Honor recipients, prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action. One of eight women killed in the conflict, Hedwig Diane Orlowski, of Detroit, a U.S. Army nurse, is also remembered.

For more information or to support VVA Chapter 154 and its efforts to assist and honor Vietnam veterans and their families, visit