Vietnamese Veterans Day Honors Service of Those Who Served 50 Years Ago
Veterans and their families, friends and supporters gathered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Court Square Saturday to commemorate national Vietnam Veterans Day.
Veterans from across western Massachusetts took part in the ceremony and welcomed a group of Korean soldiers who participated in the Vietnam War. Kee Jung Kim led a contingent of Korean veterans who are now American residents from Fort Lee, New Jersey to be part of the gathering.
Mayor Dominic Sarno joined the president of the Vietnam Veterans of Massachusetts, Sgt. Gumersindo Gomez in laying a wreath at the memorial.
Sarno noted that many Vietnam veterans were not greeted as heroes when they came home in the 1960s and 1970s.
“When you came back instead of being respected you were spat upon. Many were told not to wear their military uniforms when they reentered the country. Yet when it came to showing respect for veterans during Operation Desert Storm and the Mideast conflicts it was the Vietnam Veterans who led. They weren’t obligated to do that, but they said to themselves we cannot forget. We must always remember how we were welcomed. That should never happen to a veteran again,” he said. “All Vietnam veterans, thank you.”
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said he was the mayor of Springfield when the memorial was built to remember the sacrifices made by veterans to combat those who would strip freedoms away from the people.
“What you did was the right thing. It was pretty simple. It was about trying to inspire a sense of freedom in Indochina. As the mayor noted, we watch today in Ukraine with horror at what a Russian dictator has done. It is still a march for freedom,” he said. “We are here to memorialize what you did during a very difficult period of time.”
Comparing the 1970s to now, Neal said veterans have always fought for freedom.
“We can never forget… what you did during a very critical time, to stand up to a Marxist menace that would stifle freedom, a free press, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble. That’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean democracy isn’t noisy. It is loud. It is meant to be, our First Amendment guarantees that. It guarantees that we have today the right to assemble, to agree to disagree as members of the American family.”
Springfield’s Director of Veteran Services, Thomas Belton, himself a Vietnam vet, said aging vets deserve the “highest standards of caring.”
“We went in the summer of our lives. We were young teenagers when we left. We came back home and now we are in the winter of our lives. And, because what we experienced in Vietnam is cutting the quality of life we have short and I hope everyone understands that the war didn’t end in Vietnam. Some of us carry wounds, some are not invisible wounds. We carry physical wounds we have to deal with every day.”
Guest speaker Ron E. Armstead, Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Brain Trust, said the lessons of Vietnam may not have been learned after all.
“I thought that we would be the last ones for the longest war and that we would stand as a lesson about war for this nation,” he said. “Unfortunately, that was not the case. Here, we have gone through the endless war and are at the doorstep to another war. Nineteen years olders, such as myself back then, will be called upon to fight or sacrifice themselves for the sake of the nation. I hope there are lessons in Vietnam in the fact that you are out here still fighting and caring and comforting. Vietnam veterans 50 years later remain with this nation.”
“For many of us the war continued and followed us home, and here we are approximately 50 years later commemorating —not celebrating but commemorating —those of us who went off to war. Now, I heard recently that they say as long as one person remembers the names the war will not pass into oblivion. As long as one person remembers, and you personify that for the Vietnam War, that you will not let it go, not let it slip into the sunset.”
The Vietnam Veteran Recognition Act of 2017, naming March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day, passed by both houses of Congress was signed into law by President Donald Trump.