FORT JACKSON S.C. –
Friends, family, service members, and more than 50 Vietnam veterans gathered at the Army Reserve's 81st Readiness Division headquarters in honor of National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 codified the annual day to honor all Veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces between Nov. 1, 1955, and May 15, 1975, along with the nation's six other military-centric annual observances, including Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.
The significance of March 29 is that it marked when the United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam was disestablished, and the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam in 1973. The 81st Readiness Division held the recognition ceremony in conjunction with their March battle assembly to allow the unit's Soldiers to show support to their honored guests.
The event officially started with playing the national anthem, with Vietnam veterans and their families joining alongside the Soldiers and Civilians of the 81st Readiness Division. After the invocation from the command's deputy chaplain Lt. Col. Cary Snelling, and introductory remarks by the event's master of ceremonies, the commanding general of the 81st Readiness Division, Maj. Gen. Robert D. Harter, took to the podium and addressed the crowd.
“Today’s event is absolutely awesome,” Harter said. “We need it. We need to learn from our heroes of the past. There are so many Vietnam veterans in Columbia and the Fort Jackson area. Wherever I go. I run into Vietnam veterans wearing their colors — wearing the cloth of the nation. I am so thankful we can honor them today.”
Harter continued his remarks by sharing anecdotes about his experience serving alongside Vietnam veterans, including his first platoon sergeant. He emphasized the importance of the leadership that Vietnam veterans brought to the table for the next generation and, most importantly, their role in securing a hero's welcome for today's service members returning home from deployments.
“One of the greatest gifts that the Vietnam veterans have given today's service members; our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors; in addition to our freedom, of course, is the fact that we receive a hero's welcome wherever we go,” Harter said. “Our Vietnam Veterans did not let the Nation forget how they were treated when they came home and they said ‘never again, not on my watch."
Following his opening remarks, the event's attendees watched a video highlighting the 9 million Americans that served during the Vietnam War, representing 10 percent of their generation, with 6 million volunteers. The footage also paid tribute to the Vietnam veterans who answered the nation's call to serve and to their families for their support and sacrifice. It also acknowledged America's allies who stood by them 50 years ago.
Maj. Gen. Harter closed the event by thanking the families and loved ones of service members for their sacrifices and recognizing their status as Veterans at a ceremony. He then shared a personal story about his father, a Vietnam veteran who never received a hero's welcome but inspired him to join the Army, and how the legacy of Vietnam veterans has inspired countless others to serve.
“Your legacy lives on in us. There's no doubt that every one of you heroes in this room have inspired hundreds, maybe thousands, into service, whether in the military or just in society, without even knowing it. So, Vietnam veterans, family members, thank you for your service and sacrifice and your defense of freedom, both in Southeast Asia and here at home. You've made an unquantifiable difference,” Harter said.
Dave Loftin, Vietnam veteran, and former Army aviator attended the event and said he was delighted to participate with his friends. “I am extremely grateful for this commemoration event and the recognition of the sacrifice and service of Vietnam veterans. It means a lot to us. I hope more of my fellow Vietnam veterans will attend future events to come together and honor our shared experiences,” he said.
For more information about the National Vietnam War Veterans Day or the 50th Anniversary, visit https://www.vietnamwar50th.com/