National Vietnam War Veterans Day


As more and more American soldiers were being killed during the Vietnam War, those fighting abroad and those at home were torn.

While military personnel fought for their country, they came to mistrust the government’s reasons for keeping them there. In a seven-year span, more than 503,000 military personnel deserted.

Seeing the horrific images of war on television, many American civilians turned against it, too. In October 1967, an anti-war protest was conducted outside the Pentagon. Then in November 1969, the largest anti-war demonstration in American history was conducted in the nation’s capital with more than 250,000 people gathering to call for a withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.

By the time the war ended in 1975, more than 3 million people, including more than 58,000 Americans, had been killed.

Those fortunate to return home didn’t receive the welcome or thanks they thought they would. Opponents of the war thought they killed innocent Vietnamese civilians, while supporters saw them as losing the war.

Now, though, Vietnam veterans are receiving the thanks they deserve.

Thursday marked the second National Vietnam War Veterans Day. In 2017, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly introduced legislation to honor Vietnam veterans with a day on the anniversary of the withdrawal of military units from South Vietnam.

President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act on March 28, 2017, designating March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day to honor the men and women who served and sacrificed during the longest conflict in U.S. history.

On that day in 1973, the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and the last prisoners of war held in North Vietnam arrived on American soil.

That also is the date President Richard Nixon chose for the first Vietnam Veterans Day in 1974.

On Thursday night, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 in Seymour conducted a National Vietnam War Veterans Day program.

Ten Vietnam War veterans attended along with nearly 20 of their family members or veterans of other wars.

Post 1925 Commander Tom Jackson began with a moment of silence before welcoming — and thanking — everyone for attending.

“Thank you for serving this country, especially when at the time, it was not popular,” Jackson said.

He then gave the veterans an opportunity to share their experiences.

Russell Byrkett of Commiskey said he fought in World War II and the Korean War before doing one tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

“War is hell,” he said. “I don’t care what war it was, there’s no good war.”

It didn’t help that some people didn’t believe in the Vietnam War and chose not to thank veterans for their service.

“In my opinion, we haven’t lost a battle in American history, but we haven’t won a war since World War II due to politicians and what have you because they wouldn’t let us fight,” Byrkett said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Larry O’Neal of Seymour, who served as a combat engineer for a year during the Vietnam War, thanked all of the veterans who fought in the war.

“There were times we thought we weren’t going to make it back, but thank God we did make it back, and we are living proof that we did make it back,” he said, drawing applause.

Richard Banks of Seymour echoed those thoughts.

“For a 19-, 20-year-old kid, it scared the hell out of us,” he said of serving in the war. “I’m just glad we’re all here and we all made it back.”

Steve Gill of Seymour said it was sad when he visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and saw names of other men with whom he served.

“It makes you realize how lucky you really were,” he said.

The Rev. Gary Dyer, a Vietnam veteran, said no matter what capacity men and women served, they all deserve recognition.

“It takes everybody to fight a war,” he said. “It took every one of us to fight that crazy war.”

He said he initially was angry for having to serve and be thousands of miles away from home, but he was able to refocus when he turned to God.

“God took away so much anger,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gotten out if it wasn’t for God.”

Dyer, like many others who fought in the war, had struggles when they returned home. According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, about 500,000 troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.

At one point, Dyer said he thought about taking his own life, but God put him back on track.

“When I hit the bottom, he said, ‘All right now, brother, I love you, and I’m going to do something with you,'” he said. “God just took away all of that anger and just destroyed that nasty stuff. He restored me.”

If other veterans find themselves struggling, Dyer offered some advice.

“If you can just get with the Lord somehow and if you can get it out, you need to get rid of it because everybody keeps it inside, and it will eat you up,” he said.

When asked if he wanted to speak about his war experience during the program, Carl VonDielingen of Seymour smiled and said three words: “Welcome myself home.” That drew a big round of applause.

No posts to display