AUSTIN -- Houston resident Nancy Bui holds a collage a photographs showing the early stages of the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument, featuring the likenesses of four Americans and a South Vietnamese soldier.
But the design approved by the six member State Preservation Board Friday doesn't feature the South Vietnamese soldier, rather an Asian American G.I. instead. The board consists of Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-TX), House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) and citizen member Cris Crouch Graham.
With Eltife absent, all but Geren and Graham were represented by staff members. The board voted unanimously to approve a 2010 design which replaced earlier versions going back to the original 2005 idea. The vote came after nearly two hours of testimony, the majority of which was offered by members of the Vietnamese American community.
"I feel like they really disrespect Vietnamese Americans," said Anh Tran with the Vietnamese American Armed Forces Association. "The Vietnamese American served with the U.S. vet. So they should be honored the same, because we Vietnamese Americans, now we are Texan."
Scores of Vietnamese American veterans who fought for the South Vietnamese forces arrived for Friday morning's hearing. In starched dress uniforms and combat fatigues, dozens lined up to plead for the original design. Many said they were excited and honored by the original design, only to be left confused and hurt after it was changed.
"House Concurrent Resolution 36 is very specific, and it says to honor those Texans who served in this country's armed forces," said monument committee chairman Robert Floyd, who explains the relatively late change was made largely in order to comply.
"The second reason for that was inclusivity," explained Floyd, who suggests that the Asian American figure could represent soldiers of Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese descent.
"The Vietnamese are still represented on that," said Floyd, noting depictions of South Vietnamese forces in the bas relief panels on the monument's base. "But we were seeking to make it inclusive and based on what we felt was the intent of the legislative resolution."
"You have shown everybody what you're going to do and then you say now we're not going to do it," said Frederick Glazier. A Vietnam veteran with close ties to Houston's Vietnamese community, Glazier accuses the board of making excuses. "They have insulted these people. These people feel that there's been a bait and switch go on, that this is fraud. And it is fraud to these people."
Asked why reverting to the original design to end the controversy was off the table, Floyd replied, "Because we believe that's not the intent of the legislature, and we think that would also exclude other Asian Americans."
"It's about integrity. It's about honor. It's about what America is all about," state Rep. Hubert Vo (D-Houston), expressing disappointment with Friday's ruling. "I would encourage the community to continue to have a dialogue with the people who design the monument."
For Bui and the many others who left Houston as early as 4:00 a.m. for the morning hearing, it's little consolation.
"It's been really emotional," said Bui. "It's been really sad. And the whole community feels like they once again betrayed it."
Hundreds of veterans attended a groundbreaking for the monument in March at its location in the Northeast corner of the Texas Capitol grounds. With the final design and location approvals in place as of Friday, site work is expected to begin in January. The board plans to unveil and dedicate the monument on March 29.
For the official website of the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument -- CLICK HERE.