My name is Carl Johansen. I was a fire control technician, 3rd Class Petty Officer aboard the Forrest B. Royal, DD 872, from 1958 to 1961. I joined the Navy at the beginning of the Vietnam War (some called it a conflict). Our ship was assigned various missions during the time I was aboard, among which was to escort Marines to Beirut, Lebanon, as part of a landing force to help keep peace in the Middle East and also to help keep the Suez Canal open for shipping. Another of our missions was to be part of an honor guard for the Queen of England and President Eisenhower when the ribbon was cut for the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. My ship became one of the first to ever transit the multi-lock system of the canal and sail the entire length of the Saint Lawrence River. It was an experience of a lifetime for my shipmates and I.
When I was discharged in 1961 our ship had not been called into service for the reason I joined, which was to help my country’s fight in Vietnam. Upon being honorably released, our nation was in turmoil over this war. Those who served after I did became more alienated by the citizenry of our country than even I had been when I was discharged in '61. In my opinion the war was being used by the leaders of our country in a political fight, where it was more about how many votes they could generate to stay in power than actually using the forces we had available to stop the war. Many brave men and even some women put their lives on the line defending the mission they were assigned, only to be disrespected and dishonored for their service by a country that remained in turmoil and tension because of poor leadership.
I begin this article to show that in America today, the long years of disrespect for those who served in Vietnam on the ground and those whose mission took them elsewhere has been undergoing a change and that change began when the commander in charge at that time, President Obama, issued a proclamation: “That on Memorial Day 2012, the Federal Government partner with local governments, private organizations and communities across America to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the ending of the Vietnam War.” Since I had recently joined the Clark Haddad American Legion post located in Sandwich, Mass., and in a discussion with our newly elected post commander, Ray Tourville, he felt obligated to fulfill the request issued by the then commander in chief of these United States. I believe this was early 2017. I was asked to take on the mission to put forth a monument to honor the residents of Sandwich from 1955 to 1975. I accepted this mission to do just that. We formed a small committee that included Legionnaires George Pontes, Rob Dinan, Ray Tourville and I. We held weekly meetings discussing all the issues surrounding such a mission. We agreed to not place any beginning or ending dates on our monument. We wanted a neutral position, not including the dates,. If later, when all of the documents get released, we might well get a better timeframe as to when it actually did start and when it actually ended, and those dates could be added at any time in the future. We wanted the focus on the Sandwich residents who served, and that was accomplished. We also had serious discussions around all of the services involved in the Vietnam War, and became aware that all branches of the services - Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard - all took an active part in the war. We also discussed one other group of mariners who supplied much of the food and arms to those serving on the ground, and who also sustained losses during this war and seemed to have been forgotten. That would not occur with our monument, as we unanimously agreed that we must correct a wrong done to those patriots who also served our country, the Merchant Marines, but without the benefit of arms to defend themselves.
Once we had our monument designed by Marine Rob Dinan and it was approved by the committee, we went before every town committee and board to seek approval of one sort or another. It can be stated that every committee and board for the most part responded in a positive and collaborative manner, whereas the funding for the monument would came from the Community Preservation Committee. It was soundly supported at a town meeting, where the citizens of Sandwich were asked to support this funding. We went before the Board of Selectmen to ask permission to place it on town-owned property and once again we were overwhelmed with support. It would go in Eaton Square, near the Soldiers and Sailors monument built by Mr. Eaton in honor of those Sandwich residents who served during the Civil War. Unlike what happened during that timeframe, the Town Meeting tabled the funding for his memorial and he paid for it himself. Here we had the concerned citizens of Sandwich approving the costs for our memorial. Most everyone was saying, it is about time we recognize those who served during the Vietnam era. Now we had to determine a dedication day, and we chose Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2018, as being the best time to unveil this Vietnam Monument in what we now will call the Eaton Veterans Memorial Park, the hallowed grounds of peace and tranquility.
The planning of this event was well over one year in duration, with many challenges along the way. This would become a historic event in the oldest town on Cape Cod, both for the unveiling and the very fact that now we also had a pinning ceremony to conduct. Every veteran who served in Vietnam or a family member was invited; some came from faraway states to attend and we presented a Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin as “A Lasting Memento of the Nation's Thanks.”
We had to reinforce our committee members, and other Legionnaires stood tall, like Steve Brother, David Sillers, David Neal, Richard Nycz, Kathy Sullivan, Tom Larochelle, Doug Dexter, the Auxiliary, Reverend William Densberger, Frank MacDonald and Sean Walsh, the commander of the Barnstable post, who also helped to finance the dedication day.
The dedication day began with all of the church bells pealing, followed by Gold Star Mother Mrs. Pat DeConto leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Lilly Anderson, a high school senior, led us in the national anthem. The main address was by
Legionnaire Doug Dexter, L.T.C. U.S.M.C. retired.
The children of Sandwich were out in numbers, from the elementary choral singers to the Stem high school band, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Young Marines. Static displays included a 28-foot pontoon boat, a mock Huey helicopter, a giant Eagle and a full-size Army transport truck. We also had a 911 display of those who lost their lives on that day. Along with many Honor Guards, I would be remiss if I did not mention one that represented the Navy. The USS Constitution, (Old Ironsides), the oldest commissioned ship in the naval fleet, sent a contingent to Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod. One local business, the Sandwich Glass Museum, even closed for the day so we could have parking for our disabled wheelchair veterans who came to participate in the pinning ceremony. Our Representative, Randy Hunt, Senator Vin deMacido, along with the Town Clerk, Taylor White, read proclamations and citations from our governor, House of Representatives, Senate and Board of Selectman. In all, we had a very patriotic day on Veterans Day 2018; the mission was carried out under the leadership of our Commandeer Ray Tourville and ended with the words of Mr. Eaton’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument:
“LET US HAVE PEACE”
These were healing words from the past that may well be the beginning of the healing process from another time for those who made the sacrifices to not only volunteer to serve, but to those who were drafted. This mission is complete and another one is sitting in the wings waiting to be carried on. Thanks go out to all Sandwich citizens and dedicated Legionnaires from Clark Haddad American Legion Post 188 in Sandwich, Mass. History was made this day and all who attended - some 900 plus in all - will have a story to tell their grandchildren, that those who served during the Vietnam War were treated with respect and dignity, some for the first time in their lives.
May God always bless America and those who serve our country in her time of need, for without them, we would not have a free nation under God.
Clark Haddad American Legion Post 188
[Photos courtesy Enterprise Photography]