Local spotlight: the history behind the Vietnam War Memorial in Houston’s Little Saigon

March 29 is National Vietnam War Veterans Day

HOUSTON – Madison Garrett was born in 2003, the same year her late grandfather Thong Pham was commissioned to sculpt Houston’s prominent Vietnam War Memorial. In honor of National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day, we’re shining a spotlight on the monument as well as the late artist and war veteran Pham.

“The memorial is in the Universal Shopping Center on Bellaire Boulevard in the heart of an area that is known as Little Saigon,” said Garrett. “It depicts two soldiers, one Vietnamese, one American, and they’re standing side by side fighting together. It’s really a tribute to those who sacrifice their lives for the freedom of South Vietnam.”

The 27 foot copper statue sits atop an oval pedestal elevated by nine steps. The piece was a collaboration between Pham and architect Nghiep Nguyen.

“He was commissioned in 2003 to make the statue, which is the year I was born,” said Garrett. “It’s kind of crazy to think that this monument is as old as I am.”

Pham passed away in November 2016. In Garrett’s fond memories of her grandfather, she remembers him as an artist who loved to create.

“Growing up, I never truly understood the depth and the significance of his art,” said Garrett. “I always saw him running around the house with like, his big hat and paint all over his fingers looking all disheveled, and I was just thinking myself, ‘Oh my gosh! There goes my crazy grandpa.’ But now that I’m able to have a better perspective on everything, I appreciate him and his art so much more.”

Many say art imitates life, and Pham’s work was no exception. Pham immigrated to America during the Vietnam war after speaking out against the communist government in his home country made it unsafe for him to stay.

“Fleeing Vietnam because of the war had such an immense impact on my family and on my grandfather, especially. He fought in Vietnam’s military, and he truly loved his country. Seeing it fall was was devastating for him. This monument, I think, really captures his feelings of patriotism, hope, and just longing for the country that he used to know,” said Garrett.

Garrett is proud to say she is the granddaughter of the artist behind Houston’s Vietnam War Memorial and grateful that his work has touched the lives of so many people who were affected by war.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to have the life and the opportunities that I have today because of what they did,” said Garrett. “My heart just goes out to everyone who was impacted by war and who had to start their lives over in a new country.”

About the Author:

Olivia Kolanek is the Features Producer of KPRC 2's Houston Life. She joined the KPRC family in the summer of 2019 after working in non-profit communications for three years. She is passionate about creating content that features good people, good food or a good story. Olivia is a University of Houston alumna, Audible junkie and scuba novice.