• Special day at Commissary for Vietnam veterans

  • Vietnam veterans were honored in a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War March 29 at the Fort Leavenworth Commissary.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Vietnam veterans were honored in a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War March 29 at the Fort Leavenworth Commissary.
    Though the National Vietnam War Veterans Day has been celebrated since 1973, the official date of March 29 was proclaimed by President Donald Trump in 2017. The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War began in 2012 with a proclamation signed by former President Barack Obama and will continue through the year 2025.
    “It is appropriate that we choose this day to honor our nation’s Vietnam veterans,” said Col. Pat Proctor, chief of Operations Group Bravo, Mission Command Training Program, who served as guest speaker for the ceremony. “Fifty years ago, the U.S. military was fighting as part of a coalition of six other countries to defend South Vietnam against Communist aggression, a Viet Cong insurgency and an invasion by the North Vietnamese Army.”
    Dale Wheatley, Commissary store director, said the commemoration follows in the footsteps of commemorations honoring military service in World War II and Korea.
    “This multi-year commemoration aims to thank and honor the 6.6 million living Vietnam veterans and the families of all nine million who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955, through May 15, 1975, regardless of location,” Wheatley said.
    As part of the ceremony, Garrison Commander Col. Marne Sutten, with the help of Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Fuller and Deputy to the Garrison Commander Jack Walker, presented 13 Vietnam veterans with a lapel pin and a copy of Obama’s proclamation.
    “On the back of that pin it says, ‘a grateful nation thanks and honors you,’” said Michael Focke, Kansas City Vet Center counseling technician, who served as master of ceremonies. “The reason it’s on the back of that pin is because it’s supposed to be close to your heart.”
    One of the 13 veterans pinned was former Marine Staff Sgt. Les Babcock, who served in Vietnam from 1965-68.
    “It’s really wonderful to see all the vets here that served in Vietnam,” Babcock said. “That’s the pleasure I get is to see fellow servicemen that (were) with me over there. That’s what I enjoy about this. I get to see my old friends.”
    There was a special table at the ceremony in dedication to the Vietnam veterans who were Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action. Tom Poulter, VFW Post 56 commander explained the symbolism of each piece on the table.
    The one table setting symbolizes the “frailty of one prisoner.” The round table shows “our everlasting concern for our POW and MIAs.” The white cloth symbolizes “the purity of our men and women’s motives when answering the call of duty.” The single red rose symbolizes “our continued determination to account for them.” The lemon slice “reminds us of the bitter fate of those missing, captured and held as prisoners in foreign lands.” A pinch of salt “symbolizes the tears of our missing and their families who long for answers after decades of uncertainty.” The Bible “represents the strength gained through faith in our country, founded as one nation under God, to sustain those lost from our midst.” The candle “is reminiscent of the light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home.” The inverted glass symbolizes “their inability to share this evening’s toast.” Finally, the empty chair represents that they are still missing, Poulter said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Proctor said the political story of the Vietnam War is often told, but the more important story is that of the veterans.
    “The people we are honoring here today — our Vietnam veterans — know a different story of the war. Some of them were actually in-country on this day 50 years ago, fighting that war,” he said.
    “Those are the stories that really matter,” he said. “Those are the stories of service and sacrifice and duty and honor, the stories of heroism and courage. You were risking your lives for each other. But you were also risking your lives for your nation, even if the nation didn’t understand your sacrifice or show you the gratitude that you had so nobly earned.”
    Proctor said it is for that reason that having the commemoration is important.
    “The wars in which I have served — in Iraq and Afghanistan — presented our nation with very different challenges than those that our veterans here today faced in Vietnam,” he said. “As I returned home from each deployment, I faced a very different welcome than our Vietnam veterans faced when they came home five decades ago. Everywhere I go, I am thanked for my service. That’s thanks that our Vietnam veterans gathered here today didn’t get when they returned home.”
    Proctor said he wanted to be the first during the ceremony to give the veterans what they didn’t get 50 years ago.
    “On behalf of everyone 50 years ago who should have said it but didn’t, and on behalf of everyone gathered here today who believes it with all of their heart,” he said. “To our Vietnam veterans gathered here today, thank you for your service.”
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