Governor signing bill, Aisle of Honor, standing ovation for Hmong Vets

Governor signing our Vietnam Veteran’s Day bill for WI on July 20, 2009. I brought a group of Vietnam Veterans with me to witness the signing of the bill. What a great day! A Vietnam Vet let us use his suburban to transport everyone to Madison. After the signing we all went out to eat to continue celebrating the day.

Vietnam and Vietnam Era vets and their family walk down Aisle of Honor for us to pay tribute to them. The Aisle of Honor was made up of two rows with members from the Army Reserves, Navy, Marines, Local Firemen, Bikers for Christ, Boy Scouts, etc. Everyone’s most favorite part of the event. Congressman Ron Kind, I, and other greeted them with hand shakes and hugs as they came through. I was the last to come through the line with my parents.

Hmong Veterans coming down our Aisle of Honor and then receiving a standing ovation! It was powerful!

Follow-up on First Official Vietnam Veteran’s Day Celebration



L to R- Vue Yang (Hmong Special Guerilla Units) Hmong Speaker, Congressman Ron Kind spoke about the importance of veterans telling and preserving their stories , & News Anchor Judy Clark (WEAU 13 News) who was Masters of Ceremony.  Judy is one of the most genuine and down to earth people you could meet. She is very professional, but also alot of fun to be around.


Dann Dunham came all the way from Tennessee to be with us. Dann is the one who helped get the very first Vietnam Veteran’s Day bill passed for his state. He also helped initiate the federal resolution. Vue Yang was our Hmong speaker and represented the Hmong Special Guerilla Units from Sheboygan and the President of the Hmong, Laos, & American Veteran Memorial also in Sheboygan. Hmong and Laos Veterans came from Sheboygan, Madison, Milwaukee, and Wausau to be a part of us that day. Watch my speech about the Hmong Veterans (Memorial day 2010) and learn how they sacrificed their lives for the United States-


Robert Mann (Ho-Chunk Nation) & Thuy getting ready to present tobacco to the Little Thunder Native American Drummers (cultural exchange).


 Native American Drummers and afterward being presented with Native American blanket.


We had over 600 people attend.


Aisle of Honor- This consisted of the Army Reserves, Marines, Navy, Bikers for Christ, Boy Scouts, and the Fire Department.  Vietnam Veterans and their family members came down the Aisle of honor for us to pay tribute to them. It was one of the most powerful pieces of the event. Congressman Kind, my Hmong cultural coordinator, Judy Clark (New anchor & Master of Ceremonies), & I greeted them as they came through. Others from the crowd applauding to show their appreciation.  Many hugs & some tears. I heard quite a few testimonies of Veterans and family members stating this was the first time attending any event like this. I also heard a story of a Vet and his son who were never close, walked down the Aisle together and since then mended their relationship. Another Gold Star mother had been asked in the past to participate in speaking about her son. She could never do it. It was too painful, but she finally decided to come to our event and a Vietnam Veteran friend wheeled her down the Aisle of Honor on behalf of her son.


Aisle of Honor started-more pictures of Veterans coming through with their families below.






To the right- one of  three Hmong cultural performances.


Representative for Gold Star Mothers.                         I’m walking my parents down the aisle in the end.



Greeting people in the Aisle of Honor


I am getting ready to talk about my organization’s work including how I first started getting involved with Vietnam Vets, how the bill came about, what my vision was for this very first official Vietnam Veteran’s Day Celebration for Wisconsin was, and my personal connection as a proud daughter of a Vietnam Veteran. The second picture is of me with Congressman Ron Kind and my handsome husband and best friend Steve.


This army uniform belongs to a Vietnam Veteran from the area. We placed it on this table representing those who didn’t make it back and others who we’ve lost since returning from Vietnam. I am burning incense out of a respect and tribute to them and their families.


 Tom Nutting performing before the ceremony started and a song during the ceremony. We had another group who was going to perform, but then one of the musicians injured himself. He didn’t want to leave us stranded so he kept a lookout for someone to replace them. One day they were at an open microphone segment at a local club and this is where they heard Tom perform his one and only song that night. It was a song Tom wrote as a tribute to his brother and close friend who were Vietnam Veterans.  The second picture is a group of Marines who were also part of our Aisle of Honor.


Boy Scouts and Fire Department Honor Guard were also involved in the Aisle of Honor.


We had a Huey on the grounds for display. People loved checking it out including the kids.


Our Masters of Ceremony News Anchor Judy Clark and the WEAU NEWS 13 Team -Terry Mchugh, John Laporte, & Andrew Felix.


A Banquet followed with the community event serving Vietnamese and Hmong cuisine. We also had major Vietnamese entertainment that came from California. Her name is Lilian and she is French and Vietnamese. The second picture is of Dann Dunham and I at the banquet.


Rolling Thunder Chapter 4 and I at banquet. A real genuine group of people who supported not only my work with Veterans, but have done much on behalf of Veterans themselves. They are alot of fun to hang with. In the second picture is Laura Hammon who is the founder of DOVV- Daughters of Vietnam Veterans. I was the first one of our network that she came to meet in person. Thanks Laura for supporting our event for Wisconsin  and all you do. Another supporter was the former group Amerasian Fellowship Association who also contributed to this day.

Glimpse | Vietnam Veterans’ Day Gets Real

March 11, 2010 Issue (Volume One- Serving Chippewa Valley)

Glimpse / Vietnam Veteran’s Day Gets Real

words by Matt Ledger

On March 27, Eau Claire’s North High School will host the first official Vietnam Veterans’ Day Celebration in Wisconsin, the end result of a long campaign by Eau Claire resident Thuy Smith.

Thuy, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran father and Vietnamese mother, is the head of Thuy Smith International Outreach Inc., a humanitarian nonprofit that focuses its efforts in Vietnam, but is just as committed to helping veterans here at home.

That commitment culminated last year’s passage of Wisconsin’s Vietnam Veterans’ Day Bill, establishing an official day to honor Vietnam vets. “This gathering is an ultimate tribute and celebration for them,” says Thuy, “and they’re so humble about it, which makes me love them all the more.” The celebration, though, is just as much for the community as it is the veterans themselves. “This is also education,” says Thuy, “cultural exchange.”

That exchange will take place in the form of speeches and cultural presentations by Hmong, Native American, and Vietnamese groups. In addition, three Vietnam Veterans. All who come out will also be able to see a Huey helicopter and an advance screening of a Wisconsin Public Television documentary on Wisconsin’s Vietnam vets.

“It’s important for the vets and their families to come out,” Thuy says, “but what’s just as important, what’s going to have just as much power and impact for these guys, is if the community shows up.” More information is available at

-For more pictures from our  the very first official Vietnam Veterans day Celebration for WI, click link below.


Day honoring veterans another chapter in Vietnamese legacy

Day Honoring Veterans, another chapter in Vietnamese legacy

By Frank Zufall

Published: Friday, September 11, 2009 11:26 AM CDT

Today’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans debark airplanes on American soil and walk through air terminals where civilians stand up and offer a round of applause for returning heroes.

Parades and welcome-back ceremonies are held in small communities like Spooner and larger municipalities such as Duluth for soldiers, airmen, and sailors going to or returning from serving overseas.

But during the Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s, an unpopular war with many families divided over that conflict, some Americans vented their war anger directly at the returning veterans, and a country failed to fully honor those who fought in a conflict in which most were young men drafted and ordered by their government to serve. Some Vietnam veterans landing in the United States quickly changed from their uniforms into civilian clothes in an attempt to not be recognized as a serviceman and possibly be confronted with undeserved epitaphs not worth repeating.

To say the least, the majority of Vietnam veterans never received their hero’s welcome home. The war was not separated from the soldier.

But now there is a small but growing movement to properly welcome home Vietnam veterans. All across the nation veterans, who now mostly sport gray hair and some who walk with a limp or are in a wheelchair, are asked to file into the center spotlight while others stand up and cheer and offer the long-overdue respect.

As part of that movement, one huge welcome-back ceremony for Vietnam veterans next year is called “LZ Lambeau, Welcome Home May 2010,” to be held May 21-23 in Green Bay. The letters “LZ” stands for “landing zone” or “a safe place to land.” The honoring celebration is meant to be a safe place where Vietnam veterans are honored in one of the most celebrated venues in America – Lambeau Field.

Even before LZ Lambeau, another very propitious event will occur in Wisconsin – Vietnam veterans Day, March 29.

On July 20, Gov. Doyle signed a bill that established March 29 to say “thank you” to Vietnam veterans.

Driving force

Her name is Thuy Smith. She was born in Vietnam and came to America as a baby. Her father, William Vann, served in Vietnam where he also met Smith’s mother, Huong Vann, who today operates Huong’s Little Wok restaurant in Hayward.

Thuy, formerly of Hayward and now living in Eau Claire, is recognized as the driving force behind the Vietnam Veterans Day in Wisconsin.

Like the Vietnam veterans she has come to meet through the years, she also struggled with a Vietnamese legacy as a mixed-race child growing up in the mostly white culture of the Northland.

As an adult she returned to Vietnam to connect to relatives, and she found pride in her heritage and a vocation to carry out relief work through her non-profit organization Thuy Smith International Outreach.

As Thuy has found a place and purpose for her life in her Vietnamese journey she has sought to help the veterans who are still seeking a missing part of their lives – the honor due their service.

“The least any of them did was their duty,” she said

Smith said her motivation for the veterans, like her dad, is that they receive the recognition they deserve.

“The Vietnam veterans have been at the forefront of making sure these returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are honored because they know the heartache of coming back and not being recognized,” she said.

In pursuing legislation, Smith made two trips to Madison and gave testimony to a committee, and she also encouraged Vietnam veterans to speak out.

Reaching out

Smith and her family have been involved in honoring Vietnam veterans for a number of years. This Saturday in Altoona the fourth annual Vietnam Veteran Appreciation gathering will occur.

“The gatherings have been healing for some and for others closure,” she said. “It’s good for the veterans to share their experiences with others and then they don’t feel so isolated and alone. It’s very moving, very emotional.”

Smith said her mother’s restaurant has been an unofficial gathering spot for veterans.

Early on in Smith’s non-profit work as she became involved in sending medical supplies back to the country of her birth, a lingering thought grew that she would help Vietnam veterans.

When she was 23, she received a request from a Vietnam veteran counselor to go to Duluth and speak to a group of Vietnam veterans about her work in Vietnam.

“I called the counselor and tried to get out of it,” she said. “I didn’t think I had anything to say to them.”

The counselor persisted, and Smith arrived and stood before a group of veterans who could have been her father’s fishing buddies.

She told her story of being born in Vietnam and coming to America as a baby, and she talked about her relief work and what she observed in Vietnam and how the Vietnamese people today recognized the generosity of Americans and especially veterans who returned for visits.

“I told them the Vietnamese people had been at war for centuries – with the Japanese, French, Chinese – and it has only been the Americans who have come back after a war and sought reconciliation and helped their country recover from war,” she said. “They call Americans the beautiful and generous people.”

Smith connected with the group of veterans that day and what was supposed to be a short presentation turned into a four-hour session.

“A number of those veterans from Duluth and Superior have driven down to Hayward to mother’s Vietnamese restaurant to see us,” she said.

Smith has incorporated Vietnam veterans in assisting her in relief work back in Vietnam. She said when veterans are ready to go back, they discover the people of Vietnam have no animosity toward them, and many veterans have found the trip to be a healing experience.

“The people are very welcoming to the veterans,” she said. “It is almost a surreal experience, and many veterans come back; some are even living over there six months out of the year.”

Smith said when she is in Vietnam, most Vietnamese do not recognize her as part Vietnamese even though she speaks the language.

“It is not until they see me write my name in Vietnamese and see my name ‘Thuy,’ which is very Vietnamese, that they recognize my connection,” she said.

That failure to be fully recognized for her own unique heritage is just a small reminder to Smith of the pain so many Vietnam veterans experienced in their journey decades ago back to the States.

Smith hopes with events like the Sept. 19 gathering in Altoona and the March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day, Vietnam veterans will come to feel they are appreciated and fully recognized by their country.

Spooner Advocate

Daughter led effort for state’s Vietnam Veterans Day


Daughter led effort for state’s Vietnam Veterans Day

She understands that it wasn’t easy for Bill Smith and hundreds of thousands of other veterans returning from Vietnam. Many did not receive warm welcomes home, not like veterans of World War II or Korea.

Daughter led effort for state’s Vietnam Veterans Day

She understands that it wasn’t easy for Bill Vann and hundreds of thousands of other veterans returning from Vietnam. Many did not receive warm welcomes home, not like veterans of World

And Thuy Smith’s father had an additional element to his homecoming: having found love in the war, he came home to rural Wisconsin with a wife and baby daughter from Vietnam.

Growing up, Thuy Smith felt isolated and found herself pushing away her Vietnamese heritage.

Then she began meeting Vietnam veterans who came to her mother’s Vietnamese restaurant, Huong’s Little Wok, in Hayward. They found a common thread stitching their pasts together. She shared with the veterans the same sense of lingering sadness, a feeling of not fitting in.

“The veterans told me that because I represented Vietnam for them, they could relate to me,” said Smith, whose parents will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary in May. “Coming together with others who understand and talking with them brought a lot of healing to me.”

Now she’s helping give back to Vietnam veterans such as her father, who served two extended tours in Vietnam, and the men she met at her mother’s restaurant. Two years ago she learned of efforts to organize a Vietnam Veterans Day in Minnesota and Tennessee, and she thought Wisconsin also should recognize the day.

So she contacted state lawmakers, organized a letter-writing campaign, testified at a public hearing and stood behind Gov. Jim Doyle last summer as he signed an act making March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day in Wisconsin. This weekend in Eau Claire the first event will be held.

“I want the next generations to know about who these men were. There are so many whose stories have never been told. I’ve learned so much from them, and I want to share that knowledge,” Smith, 37, said in a phone interview from her Eau Claire home.

Smith has returned several times to the country she left as an 8-month-old baby, and she runs a nonprofit organization, Thuy Smith International Outreach Inc. Based in Eau Claire, it raises money for youth programs and vocational training in Vietnam and distributes donated medical supplies. On her last visit in January, she brought two Vietnam veterans, including David Backstrom, a retired Eau Claire police officer who served in Vietnam as a Navy corpsman.

Backstrom, who also attended the bill signing in the state Capitol, said Wisconsin’s Vietnam veterans should be recognized for their sacrifices.

(Group of veterans Thuy invited & organized to take with her to witness the signing of the bill).

“It identifies a period of time that kind of got lost,” said Backstrom, who was stationed in Da Nang in 1966. “It means that the Vietnam veterans of Wisconsin have a time set aside to recognize all those soldiers who were killed.”

More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam – the names of 1,239 Wisconsinites are etched in black granite on the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington.

The idea for a day dedicated to Vietnam veterans began in Tennessee when Ron “Scooter” Dyer went to a Veterans Day event “where Vietnam was never mentioned during the whole program,” he said. Dyer vowed to do something about it, managed to get the Tennessee Legislature to back the idea, and the first Vietnam Veterans Day was held in that state in 2007. Since then, Dyer said, more than 30 states have approved or are in the process of recognizing Vietnam Veterans Day.

Organizers chose March 29 because the remaining combat troops left Vietnam on that day in 1973.

Wisconsin’s first Vietnam Veterans Day will be celebrated at Eau Claire North High School from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday. The event will feature speakers, a display of a Huey helicopter, video of an upcoming Vietnam veterans documentary by Wisconsin Public Television and music. A banquet is scheduled for Saturday night in Eau Claire.

For more information, go to: