The last American troops left Vietnam 40 years ago.
California’s black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The State Archives has proof: A collection of some 1,500 items that have been left at the memorial since its December 10, 1988 opening.
A fraction of those items form a new exhibit running through Memorial Day, “All Gave Some, Some Gave All.”
Uniforms, medals, poems, dog tags, beer cans, service ribbons, artwork, bayonets, helmets, origami peace cranes, boots and more are now preserved by the Archives as part of an arrangement with the Department of General Services which is responsible for Capitol Park and its monuments.
”For me, the most heart-wrenching are some of the letters and poems, the cards written for departed loved ones,” said Archivist Lisa Prince, who created the exhibit. “ Especially those from mothers to sons, sisters to brothers, children to fathers who died in the war.”
A neatly typewritten poem titled “Farewell to a Son” was one of the first things Prince read as she began shaping the exhibit.
“To you my son who went away to fight this country’s war. To you I’ll have to say goodbye for you’re coming home no more,” the 44-line poem begins.
Elsewhere in the exhibit is a piece of three-ringed notebook paper. In block letters it reads:
“If by chance we meet again in that special place for soldiers, let’s not talk about the war first thing. Instead, let’s all do something so we can all hear each other laugh again.
“Until that day, I will continue to let the world know that I had the honor to have you as friends. Your brother forever…”
Prince said her goal was to humanize the soldiers through the items on display.
“They’re so young. So many of them. It was important to add the human dimension. To show that they’re people, not just names on the wall.”Prince came to the Archives in September after working as a curator for, among others, the state Department of Parks and Recreation.
The “human dimension” is evident throughout the exhibit.
A full can of Rainier Ale left at the memorial was accompanied by a handwritten card apologizing for it not being a “Bud.”
Boots in one of the display cases have written on the side: “Home At Last.”
A teddy bear sits beside a black “MIA/POW” banner.
An inventory of the full collection accompanies the exhibit. It shows that many American flags have been placed at the Memorial over the past quarter century but only one pair of “women’s bikini briefs.”
The exhibit is on the Fourth Floor of the Archives at 1020 O Street in Sacramento, adjacent to the Research Room.
Viewing hours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 A.M TO 4:00 P.M.
It’s free to the public.