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NEWS | March 30, 2016

Honoring our Vietnam Veterans

By Maj. Ruth Castro 1st Mission Support Command

FORT BUCHANAN, Puerto Rico – Friends, family, military members and over 90 Vietnam Veterans gathered at the 1st Mission Support Command (MSC) Ramos Hall to honor Vietnam Veterans during a Commemoration Ceremony on March 29.

The Vietnam War was a long war and accordingly, a long commemoration period is planned. By presidential proclamation, the Commemoration extends from Memorial Day 2012 through Veterans Day 2025. In Puerto Rico, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs are committed to honoring and recognizing Vietnam Era Veterans throughout the commemoration period.

“The purpose of the Vietnam War Commemoration is to honor the Selfless Service and Sacrifices made by the Vietnam Veterans and their families during a very challenging time in our nation’s history,” said Col. Hector Moran, Deputy Commander for the 1st MSC. “More importantly, the commemoration is intended to assure our Vietnam Veterans that this grateful nation will never forget those sacrifices.”

Before leaving the podium, Moran led everyone in a moment of silence to honor those brave Vietnam Veterans that are no longer present physically but always present in spirit.

In 2008, the Secretary of Defense was authorized to conduct a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The inaugural event occurred at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly known as “The Wall,” in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day, 2012.

Mrs. Wendy Torres, Director of Veterans Benefit Administration San Juan Regional Offices, referenced some of the challenges and struggles Vietnam Veterans faced. “These service members that had chosen to honor our Nations call, were encouraged to travel home not in uniform, but in civilian clothes, to avoid being mocked and ridiculed,” said Torres.  “Those that were able, quietly slipped back into the lives they had left if they could. Others were not so lucky. Like the Veterans returning from today’s battlefields, those who served in Vietnam came home with both physical and unseen injuries of the war.”

Torres expressed how many of the unseen injuries suffered by Vietnam Veterans were undiagnosed and weren’t understood by the medical community or citizenry as they are now. “Veterans were left to meet these challenges alone without the assistance available to today’s Veterans,” continued Torres, “yet most of these Vietnam Veterans will tell you that they are the lucky ones as 58,307 of their brother and sisters never came home.”

Mrs. Nayda Ramirez, Deputy Director of Staff of the VA Caribbean Healthcare System provided some facts for context and understanding of the true cost of war which is not measured in dollars and cents but rather in lives. There were many neighbors, friends and family members that returned with seen and unseen scares that required mending and extensive care, and many that did not return home.

The military served in Vietnam under six different presidents. There are 58,307 names that appear on the Wall in Washington, D.C. with an average age of 23.1 years; tens of thousands were disabled, 7,500 women, majority of them nurses, served in Vietnam; 8 were killed in theater, all were nurses. There are still about 1,627 that are considered missing in action.

Mr. Juan Nieves, Director of the Puerto Rico National Cemetery, spoke highly of the Vietnam Veterans and acknowledged that now, authorized by Congress and the president, and on behalf of the nation, we have the opportunity to do what should have been done 50 years ago: Welcome our Vietnam Veterans home with honor and thank them and their families for their service and sacrifice.

“At this moment we would like to recognize the Vietnam Veterans here today,” said Nieves. “I ask every Vietnam Veteran among us to stand, so we may recognize your service and sacrifice and give you the “welcome home” you so richly deserve.”

Every Vietnam Veteran present stood proudly as the audience applauded for them. As the applause faded, the family members were asked to stand and were commended for the sacrifices they endured for this country.

The recognition ceremony concluded after each Veteran received a Vietnam Commemoration pin and a Commemoration Certificate. As the names of each Veteran were called, they stood up proudly and walked to the front to receive their pins and certificates.

Once they reached their seats, they read their certificates and some immediately wore their pins. These Veterans proved to be pretty tech savvy as they pulled out their phones and tablets to take photos of themselves showing off their certificates and wearing their pins. This was their official, “welcome home”.

Many of the Veterans expressed that they were happy to finally get some recognition even though it was long overdue.
Among those recognized was Mrs. Rosa Navarro. Navarro joined the U.S. Army in September of 1973 and stated that she was very happy that someone took the initiative to recognize the Vietnam Era Veterans.

Mr. Mario R. Hernandez served in Vietnam during 1967-69. “It is good that these ceremonies are being held, even though it has been 50 years,” said Hernandez. “We were ridiculed and insulted when we first returned from war, we never got any recognition or a “welcome home”. It is now that we are finally getting thanked for our service and sacrifice. This was definitely necessary, it is quite late but we are here, we made it.”

Mr. Amador Ortiz, native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico served with the 518th Maintenance Company as a specialist in Vietnam during 1968-69. “I’m very happy that this recognition finally happened even though it is very late and there are many that were not able to be present for this recognition,” expressed Ortiz.

Beginning in late 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) became a commemorative partner with the Department of Defense (DoD) to host "Welcome Home" events across all administrations to proudly support this noble endeavor.  

The San Juan Regional Office, the Caribbean Healthcare System and the Puerto Rico National Cemetery are a proud Commemorative Partners with a strong commitment to giving Vietnam Veterans the recognition and welcome home they deserve.