On a day when thousands gathered in Orange County's Little Saigon to celebrate Tet, the start of the lunar new year, a veterans group urged planners of a Vietnam War Memorial to fly both the United States flag and the South Vietnamese flag.
"There are 358,000 reasons to fly both," said John Lynch, president of the Orange County chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, referring to the 58,000 American and 300,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who died in the war.
The issue of flying both flags has been a subject of controversy in Westminster, a community with a large Vietnamese population.
In April 1999, the Westminster City Council rejected a request to fly flags of the former South Vietnam from city light poles on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon, bowing to pressure from veterans groups that felt it would have shown disrespect for the American flag.
But in the case of the war memorial, it is important to recognize the soldiers of both countries, Lynch said. Virtually every member of his group agreed, voting unanimously recently to support the issue.
And the federal flag code would allow it, Lynch said, provided no other flag flies higher than the U.S. flag.
"It is historically correct to fly both flags," said Lynch, who marched with other Vietnam veterans in Saturday's Tet Festival parade in Westminster. "It honors the fallen soldiers, and the flags that should be flown at the memo
rial are the flags of those governments . . . [that] fought for freedom at the time the war was in progress."
The memorial is to be built on a field across from the Westminster Civic Center on Westminster Boulevard. The final design plans, though not yet approved by the City Council, feature two soldiers standing side by side--one an American, the other Vietnamese. The flags would fly at the same height from poles behind the statues of the soldiers.
Although the plans won unanimous support from the local Vietnam Veterans of America, they may not win unanimous support from the City Council, said Mayor Margie L. Rice, who feels strongly that no other flag--not even the former South Vietnamese flag--should be flown at equal level with the U.S. flag.
"I am not in favor of having the Vietnamese flag flying as high as the American flag. I've made that very clear," Rice said. "I'd like the American flag to be higher and flown all the time. This is America, and the American flag is the flag of this country."
Tsu A Cau, who served as a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army, disagreed.
"It's important to have both flags flown at the memorial, because you will not see that flag in Vietnam," said Cau, who donned his army uniform and marched in the parade with other former Vietnamese soldiers. "It's a place that will represent freedom. We paid for it, and we have to protect it. We want to see this flag fly all the time and forever. . . . A lot of American soldiers fought for it and died for it, and there is no reason not to fly it."
About 10,000 people lined the route of this year's Little Saigon Tet parade, celebrating the start of the year of the snake. The event evoked memories of home for Nguyen Phuoc, who moved to the United States from Vietnam in 1980.
"It makes me feel like I'm still in Vietnam," said Phuoc of Garden Grove. "We lost everything [in the war]--our home, our country. So it's nice to see this here."