Lisa Commander, director of the Columbia Gorge Veterans Museum, is asking men and women who served in the Vietnam and Korean wars to contribute to special exhibits this year.
“We’re looking for stories or anything connected to folks who served overseas or anyone from the homefront,” she said.
The 50th anniversary of the Vietnam Tet Offensive was Jan. 30 and Commander said that has piqued her interest in telling the story of 1968, a peak year in the war, from the perspective of local veterans.
“There was a lot going on that year and it was a real turning point in the war,” said Commander.
The action escalated on Jan. 31, 1968, when some 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong mounted the Tet Offensive, attacks on more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam.
Named after “Tet,” the celebration of the lunar new year, the offensive was intended to stir rebellion among the South Vietnamese and drive the United States to scale back its involvement in the war.
There were three phases of the offensive throughout 1968 and Commander said troop ranks swelled to more than 500,000, the highest number of the war.
The massive assault shocked the American public and further eroded support for the war effort, which led to a slow, painful withdrawal from the region.
On March 16, 1968, the My Lai Massacre occurred in Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians in South Vietnam. The murders were committed by U.S. Army soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division.
Victims included men, women, children and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated.
On the political front back home, 1968 was also a year of tragedy.
Martin Luther King, Jr., an American clergyman and civil rights leader, was fatally shot by James Earl Ray, a known racist, on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn.
Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy was mortally wounded in Los Angeles, Calif., by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, on June 5, 1968, because he had advocated for American support of Israel. Kennedy died the following day. He had been the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
“It was a pretty significant time,” said Commander.
Her plan is to feature “Vietnam 1968: Courage Controversy” from Feb. 27 to April 30.
March 29 is Vietnam Veterans Day and Commander urges people to come to the museum at 203 E. Second St. and learn more about what troops went through and the issues they faced after returning home.
The museum, in space donated by American Legion Post 19, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Commander has tentatively scheduled a Korean War exhibit (title not yet chosen) from May 1 through June 30.
The anniversary of the start of that war in 1950 is June 25 and, again, Commander said that is a good time to learn more about America’s “forgotten war.”
From July 1 through September, an exhibit called “From Farms to Firearms: Combat Veterans of the Gorge” will be displayed.
The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I will be the focus Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Armistice Day, which marked the end of the conflict, is Nov. 11. That is also Veterans Day and the museum will observe both events.
For more information on the exhibits, or to arrange to donate items for display, contact Commander at 541-769-1150.