DALLAS - Thong Bui leans over a rough clay statue and studies the lines. It's only about a foot tall, and shows an American soldier standing with his arm on a seated South Vietnamese soldier. The seated soldier is holding a flag draped over his legs.
Thong Bui relates to this statue like no other because it depicts a South Vietnamese paratrooper. Just like he was.
Mourning the loss of his country, friends and flag. Just like he did.
"He's looking at the Vietnamese flag," Bui said. "He feels sorry. 37 years ago we die. We were willing to die for this flag."
There are very few memorials anywhere for South Vietnamese veterans, and the estimated 300,000 South Vietnamese military members who died in the war.
The small clay statue is the model for an eight-foot tall bronze to be created by Dallas artist Mark Byrd and his wife. For Byrd, the nature of the work is personal.
"Oh yeah, it has to be," he said. "I think all good art is personal art."
Byrd's sculptures are on display at the Air Force Academy and other military installations. He understands the sacrifice firsthand. The artist piloted helicopter gunships in Vietnam in 1969 and '70.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about the Vietnam war, and even a lot of military who were there have them," he said. "And that is that the Vietnamese were not good fighters, and that the whole thing was corrupt. They fought valiantly for years after we left."
But for many years before U.S. forces pulled out, American advisers lived and died alongside South Vietnamese troops. The Vietnamese community of North Texas asked Byrd to illustrate that bond.
The project is sponsored by the Heroes of South Vietnam Memorial Foundation. It's supposed to honor both American and South Vietnamese vets.
"We don't know what else to do to show our appreciation to the Americans," said Peter Dao, who is helping with a fundraiser scheduled for Saturday night in Dallas.
Dao said the foundation is trying to raise $350,000 to place the statue at Veterans Park in Arlington. He said outside of Houston, Arlington has the largest Vietnamese population in Texas.
They plan to dedicate the statue on April 30, 2014. It's the anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975.