Friday, March 6, 2015

Pentagon Commemoration Advisory Committee Meetings

Report of Vietnam War Commemoration Advisory Committee Meeting – Feb 20, 2015
       --Terry Provance

Meeting began at 1 pm at Ft Myer and chaired by Mark Franklin.  Seven of 10 committee members were present including chairperson Tom Ridge.  An 8th member came 10 minutes before adjournment.  Seven staff people were present including Kicklighter replacement, Mr Braun (Brown).  I was not able to get his full name and it is not on their website.  In the audience were 8 people, 7 from local Commemorative Partners and myself.

First report was of the Congressional Ceremony which will take place in July of this year.  Working with John Boehner, the committee chose a Congressional Ceremony rather than a Joint Session because more people can attend a ceremony and press is not limited like in Joint Session.  The staff want to have this on July 8 or close to it because on that day in 1965 the Vietnam Service Medal was established by Johnson.  It will be a one hour event either at 11 am or 3 pm probably followed by a reception and there was talk of having something else on the Capitol steps so that even more people could attend.  The ceremony most likely will be in Emancipation Hall, all 4 Congressional leaders will participate, the staff can send invitations and also nominate speakers and entertainers to Boehner who decides.  There was lots of discussion about whether they will broadcast or stream the event and the kinds of people they wanted as speakers.  Ridge recommended strongly that Hagel be invited to speak.

Second major topic was History and Legacy.  This originally was called History and Education but has changed and this department is headed by Franklin who is also designated federal officer.  They have revised their timeline and had been waiting for independent historian(s) to review.  Just the night before, Thursday, they heard from the AHA, American Historians Association, which suggested 7-8 names according to Franklin.  I spoke with him about this when the event ended.  He said at the top the this list was Fred Logevall, who as we know was approached by Franklin based on our suggestion but who also declined.  I did not get any other names on this list.  I asked about George Herring because this was the second name we gave to Franklin.  He said he had heard that he was getting old and not as available.  I asked if we could submit other names for consideration and he said yes.  I indicated that we were in touch with Herring and might hear of his availability soon.  Franklin said that if we could get Herring to participate, he would welcome this because “he is so highly rated.”  Back to the department report, Franklin spoke at length about how they are preparing materials for reaching out to middle and high schools and that he has begun to visit both.  In addition, he reported that many middle schools and some high schools require their students to do service projects and he has proposed and some have adopted the idea for students to identify a local Vietnam veteran, interview the veteran, take foto, write up report and make video with music included.  Already over 700 interviews like this have been conducted and produced.  He and Joe Galoway of UPI have done almost 100 oral interviews of veterans and are planning many more.  Both go to San Francisco this coming week where they will do 63 interviews in 3 days.   These are being placed in the national archives and Library of Congress.  They are also collecting and archiving all of their project materials for both the State Department and Texas Tech archives.  The advisory committee had many suggestions for how staff can reach middle and high school students.

But the most impressive section of staff reporting was the Strategic Communications headed by Phil Wait.  I must admit that not only is their strategy fully thought through, the execution and measurement metrics are also solid.  And this work is projected through 2025.  They plan, and have a plan, to reach every living Vietnam veteran and their families.  Right now there are about  7.2 million of the 9 million who served in Vietnam.  309 die daily.  By 2025 there will be 6 million and in between now and then they will reach each one.  Most of this will be accomplished through their Commemorative Partners of whom they now have 7,231 of which 6,240 are civilian and 991 are military.  So far this year they have held 1,221 events (civilians will do 2 per year/military 1 per year).  By the end of 2015 they will have held 13,423.  And they will do this or more in 2016 and 2017 but they have successive plans for the years thereafter.  In the next 3 years they will have sponsored over 40,000 events to honor veterans and promote their version of the war.  They plan to average 89 vets per local event.  Right now they have reached about 50,000 veterans and 70,000 family members.  By 2018 they project to have recognized 3.6 million, half of total Vietnam vet population.

Wait and staff have very detailed objectives and ways to measure and course correct if needed.  This includes outreach to vet hospitals and nursing homes, USO clubs, governors, speechwriters for the president, secretaries, Joint Chiefs, Congressional offices.  They will have an officially sponsored car at NASCAR this year and have worked out agreements for the baseball All Star and World Series games.  They continued to talk about college football games and Ridge wanted them to make sure they get the NRA as a Commemorative Partner.  Habitat for Humanity already has a house building project for veterans and they want to turn that to Vietnam veterans.  They have demographics for where most Vietnam veterans live (highest three states are California, Texas and Florida) and how they plan to have local event in these states.  But in every state though they have priorities based on veteran density and who their local partners are right now.  I was surprised to hear this statistic.  If there are now 7.2 million Vietnam veterans that is 1 out of every 44 persons in the United States.  But since Vietnam veterans are most likely to be over 65 years old, that means there is 1 vet for every 8 senior and this will make it easier for them to reach the veterans who “were not honored after they came home but will be honored now.”  I wish I had the slides presented by all staff in digital form so that I could ship those to you right now.  Maybe I can find a scanner and do so.  But I took 7 copies of the paper slide presentation and can send one to you if you provide your mailing address.

Their next meeting will be after Memorial Day and probably in early June.  They want to meet before the Congressional Ceremony in July.  The final date of that ceremony should be known soon and maybe even this coming week.

Simply put, their project has significantly matured since last October.  Not only have they put a lot of things in motion and have accomplished quite a bit, they have serious and ambitious plans which I believe they can execute successfully.

Feb 22, 2015


Report from Terry Provance of a public meeting of the Vietnam War Commemoration Advisory Committee:

The public meeting was primarily staff from the Vietnam War Commemoration reporting to the Advisory Committee and getting feedback and input from the committee.  Nine people from the committee (all members) were present; 10 people from staff; 13 people in the audience.  I was the only person in the audience who was not from the military
I'll make some notes hear from the reports and discussions:

Now on the website there is no longer attention paid to producing educational materials.  Before the meeting I chatted with a new person to the staff who was in the audience and not at the panel table.  He is now the new staff for strategic communications and I did not know this when I spoke with him.  I asked about educational materials and he told me that this is on hold for now and we will see.  However, in the reports mention was made by the Interagency Advisory Group (IAG) of its role in education and by the Pentagon Museum Exhibition about historical accuracy.  So there are places where this will be important even though there might not be pro-active materials distributed as originally thought.  The entire subject of strategic communications will be the agenda for their next meeting in February, 2015.  I had hoped to ask some of the questions about education and changes in their plans but unfortunately, even though the meeting was open, it did not include questions nor comments from the audience

This project has enlisted the support and partnership of over 7,000 groups (mostly military related) around the country and up to now all the work has been preparation.  Over the next 3 years 2015-2017 there are ambitious plans to gear up in colleges, schools and sports events.  Ridge referred to the robust support as a greater appreciation today for Vietnam veterans and even of how people in Vietnam are more appreciative and grateful to the United States.  He has visited recently.

Plans are well underway for a Joint Congressional Ceremony next year.  This project follows strict procedures within both chambers and John Boehner is giving substantial support and space for the event. 2015 is seen as the kickoff and the Joint Ceremony as key to that.  Look for former vets who are in Congress to take big parts (McCain et al).  The other major component due for completion next year is the Pentagon Exhibit which will be part of the permanent exhibit there.  Here again was discussion about historical accuracy and why the project will be in touch with official government agencies to make sure about that.  There will also be a virtual version of the exhibit online.

Ridge pushed hard to get staff to contact the NCAA so that on one given Saturday next fall as many as possible football games will feature Vietnam Commemoration events.  This will begin to happen this year at Clemson and some other schools.

Finally an interesting question and comment from former POW and Chuck Hagel's battalion commander, Everett Alvarez, who asked:  "Has there been any pushback?  Or has everybody seen the light?  Now that so much time has passed, do we all agree?" To this staff again mentioned the incredible support but did say that not everyone agreed and that there have been stories in the media about concerns.

The project is serious about identifying Vietnam Vets and honoring them.  It is also serious about middle schools, high schools and universities where it will reach out pretty aggressively presumably to influence future voters/citizens and perhaps impact school curriculum.  I heard it said more than once that the Vietnam War is either not covered in classroom (people talked about how it has been yanked) or if it is covered it is not accurate and doesn't tell the full story.  The project with substantial resources already has tremendous outreach to local communities across the country and will continue to build upon and maximize this.  Each partner group pledges to hold at least 2 local events in each year 2015, 2016, and 2017.  It will be visible.

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